Average still well behind 1993-94 inaugural season
BY ANDREW MILLER
The South Carolina Stingrays saw an increase of more than 10,000 fans this season for a gain of 8.1 percent over last year.
It was the second straight season the Stingrays have had an increase in attendance. The minor league hockey team averaged 3,812 fans per game this season, ranking 17th out of the 22 franchises in the ECHL.
In all, 137,247 fans passed through the turnstiles at the North Charleston Coliseum during the Stingrays' 36-game home scheduler. During the 2012-13 season, the Stingrays' total home attendance was 126,992.
"It's a tribute to the hard work of our entire staff," said South Carolina Stingrays president Rob Concannon. "I think the increased spending in our advertising budget, plus the things we did with social media really helped get the word out."
The attendance numbers are positive news for the Stingrays, but Concannon acknowledges there is much work to be done. This season's home attendance is still well short of the franchise record of 311,148 set during the team's inaugural season in 1993-94. In the team's first five seasons, the Stingrays were routinely among the top-drawing teams in the league.
"We're happy with the progress we've been making over the last couple of seasons, but obviously we'd love to see more people in the building on a night-in and night-out basis," Concannon said.
The Stingrays' uptick in attendance mirrored that of the rest of the ECHL this season.
ECHL teams brought in 3,642,779 fans this season for an average of 4,706 per game, marking the 10th straight season and the 22nd time in the last 24 seasons that the per-game average has exceeded 4,000 fans. It is an increase over the 4,695 fans per game from 2012-13 and marks the highest per-game average in 14 years since 4,774 fans attended games during the 1999-2000 season. It was the 21st consecutive season that the league-wide attendance has exceeded 3 million.
"When we go to the board of governors meetings, everyone is exchanging ideas on how to best promote our product," Concannon said. "I know that exchange of ideas has really helped us because we can see what works and what doesn't in markets like ours. Not all the markets are the same across the league, but we're all selling entertainment."
The ECHL extended its season by a week in hopes of getting more weekend dates for the franchises. The extra week, plus new mid-week promotions and having country music star Darius Rucker sing the national anthem and a visit from the NHL's Stanley Cup, helped the Stingrays bottom line this season. The Stingrays set a team record with 10,617 fans on "Pack the House Night" Jan. 25 against Florida.
"I think it's been a combination of things," Concannon said. "We tried some new promotions, and having Darius and the Stanley Cup helped on those nights."
The Ontario Reign led the ECHL with an average of 8,158 fans per game, an increase of 7.7 percent over last season, to become the first team since Greenville in 1999-2000 to average at least 8,000 per game. Ontario had seven sellout crowds this season and 10 crowds in excess of 8,900. The Reign have led the league in attendance in three of the last four seasons, and have finished either first or second in the final attendance rankings in each of their six ECHL seasons.
Fort Wayne, which led the league in attendance last season, finished second in 2013-14 with an average of 7,211 per game. The Komets welcomed nine crowds of more than 8,000 fans to Memorial Coliseum this season.
For the second straight season, the Orlando Solar Bears were third in the ECHL with 6,355 fans per game at Amway Center.
The Colorado Eagles sold out all 36 games at the 5,289-seat Budweiser Events Center in Colorado Springs, Co., extending the team's minor league hockey record to more than 410 consecutive sellouts.