Recently, the IceMen won the Platinum Award (1st Place) for Best Local Sporting Event in the Evansville Courier & Press Readers Choice Awards. It took all of one season in the city’s marquee sports facility for the IceMen to officially take over the top spot – beating the Evansville Otters baseball team and the University of Evansville’s men’s basketball team, among others.
Some naysayers have pointed out that the IceMen should’ve won by default because the Otters and Purple Aces have both been struggling for years, which is no secret. Still, for a relatively new IceMen team (2011-12 was the team’s fourth season of operation) in a non-traditional hockey market that has always been slow to adapt to change and try new things, the Readers Choice victory means a lot.
It’s a big bright feather in IceMen Owner Ron Geary’s cap – a “told ya so” aimed directly at all of the fuddy-duddies who said hockey wouldn’t draw in Evansville and that the people just wouldn’t get into the sport.
It’s also a pretty hefty title that backs up what the numbers already told us – that Evansville is falling in love with the IceMen.
IN OUR BACKYARD…
Just how did the IceMen stack up against the local competition?
• During the 2011-12 regular season, the IceMen had 33 home games and attracted a total of 161,121 fans. The UE men’s and women’s Division 1 basketball teams COMBINED only drew 99,111 for 31 games. Even if you throw in the University of Southern Indiana’s men’s and women’s Division 2 hoops teams, the total college basketball attendance in the city was 130,861 over a total of 60 games. Meanwhile, out on the diamond, the Otters attracted a total of 97,937 at 44 home dates in 2011.
• With 33 home games, the IceMen averaged 4882 fans per game. The UE men averaged 5260 over 17 home games. However, their average was obviously inflated by games against major draws Butler and Indiana, two marquee opponents that do not appear on this season’s UE schedule. (This year’s largest UE draw will probably be the exhibition against USI on October 27, as the biggest non-conference names on UE’s regular season schedule are Murray State and Yale.) If you discard the Aces’ games against the Bulldogs and Hoosiers last season, their other 15 games averaged 4688 fans – nearly 200 fewer than the IceMen. (Nobody else was even close to the UE men and the IceMen – the Otters averaged 2226, the USI men averaged 1512, the UE women averaged 692, and the USI women averaged 648.)
• The IceMen averaged a stellar 8107 over 5 Saturday home dates, including a pair of sellouts with more than 9400 fans in attendance. (The Aces averaged just 5456 over 8 Saturday home dates, even including the opener against Butler.) The IceMen also averaged 5135 over 12 Friday home dates, including 8166 for the home finale. (The UE men only played one game on a Friday, attracting 4027 fans.) The IceMen played 8 Sunday home games, averaging 3830 fans. (The Aces only played one Sunday game as well, drawing 5836.) The Otters couldn’t compare to the IceMen or Aces, but still easily did their best business on Fridays (3552) and Saturdays (3190).
IN DOUBLE-A HOCKEY…
And how did the IceMen draw compared to their hockey competition?
• The IceMen average of 4882 ranked 4th in the 14-team CHL, and topped the averages of 13 of the ECHL’s 20 teams. (So for the mathematically-challenged, Evansville ranked 11th out of 34 total Double-A teams.) Evansville easily bested both the CHL (4042) and ECHL (4282) league-wide averages. The Fort Wayne Komets were clearly the cream of the “AA” crop, with an average of 7770 – well ahead of #2 Ontario (6309) and #3 Toledo (6252).
• Evansville out-drew ECHL teams in some much larger markets, including Salt Lake City’s Utah Grizzlies (4412), the Las Vegas Wranglers (4339), the Cincinnati Cyclones (4190), and the now-defunct Chicago Express (2508).
• The SMALLEST crowd at an IceMen home game was 2359 on a Tuesday night in January. That season-low was actually better than the AVERAGE attendance for 4 CHL teams – Laredo, Texas, Bloomington and Dayton.
• For the 2012-13 ECHL season, the IceMen will play in the league’s 5th-smallest market based on metro area population. (The smaller markets are Kalamazoo, Colorado [Loveland], Wheeling, and downright dinky Elmira.) Of the 21 current ECHL teams that were in operation last season, only 4 had a better per-capita attendance rate. Elmira (3320 per game with a metro population of just 88,830) had by far the best per-capita average, with 3.737% of the metro area in attendance each night. Fort Wayne was #2 at 1.867% (7770 of 416,257), Wheeling was #3 at 1.788% (2645 of 147,950), and Colorado was #4 at 1.765% (5289 of 299,630). Evansville’s 5th-place per-capita number was 1.361% (4882 of 358,676).
IN THE NEAR FUTURE…
So what should we expect for the IceMen in the 2012-13 season?
• More big crowds, thanks in part to a more favorable schedule. Of the team’s 36 home games, 28 will be played on weekends – including 12 Saturdays, up from just 5 last season. It also helps that 2 of the 8 weekday games should draw pretty well – the lone Monday home game is on New Year’s Eve (not your typical Monday), and the only Tuesday home game is the 2nd Annual Education Day Game.
• More capacity crowds. The IceMen sold out the Ford Center twice last season. That number could double this season. Prime sellout candidates include the home opener (10/13) and home finale (3/23), the annual “Pack the House Night” (12/1), and the season’s second and final Saturday home game against the Komets (1/26).
• Another season of overall growth. I went through the whole home schedule and jotted down estimated attendance projections based on opponents, announced promotions, proximity to other home games, expected growth of the regular fan base, and last season’s averages for each day of the week. I ended up with 198,000 total fans, for an average of 5500 per game. Now granted, there are a LOT of variables that can greatly affect attendance going forward, especially on-ice success (or lack thereof) and additional promotions. Regardless, I think it’s a VERY safe bet that the IceMen will exceed last season’s average of 4882 fans per game, and I think 5500 will end up being in the right ballpark for this season’s actual average. It could certainly be as low as 5000 (180,000 total) or as high as 6000 (216,000), and I think the higher end of that range is more likely than the lower end. But for whatever it’s worth, my “official” projection is 5500. And I’ll be very happy if it turns out that I’m way low on this one!