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WTF, Indianapolis?!? – Part I

May 10, 2010

During the time of the Racers, this city was a hockey town. The team was selling out Market Square Arena and the Racers were THE team in Indy for a while, much like the Colts are THE team now. From the WHA days the city has been on a steady decline. After the Racers left, we had the Checkers of the CHL. After the Checkers changed to the IHL, they moved and Indy was then given the Ice of the IHL. Once the IHL collapsed, the Ice of the CHL began play. When attempting to play in a league where half the teams were located in Texas became too much of a financial burden, the CHL Ice moved and Indy was then treated to the Ice of the USHL.

I have nothing against the current incarnation of the Ice, in fact, I rather like USHL. Yet this is Indianapolis, the 14th largest city in the country. We should have a higher level of hockey being played in the city.

For a while I thought that perhaps the reason Indianapolis does not have a higher level hockey team was due to an overall lack of interest for the sport. Yet the numbers show that this is simply not the case.

3,697.

Let’s keep this number in mind as it is the average attendance for the Indiana Ice.

It’s actually a pretty impressive number given the fact that a lot of people I converse with really had no idea that Indianapolis still has a hockey team. The Ice currently rank 2nd in USHL attendance. This number is astounding to me for two reasons:

1) The Ice do very little advertising within the city. For the most part, it seems that only hockey fans in the city really know what’s going on with the team. Most casual fans tend to know a very small amount about the team.

2) Home games are played at Pepsi Coliseum. This is important to note because it is not a centralized location, like Conseco Fieldhouse. Fans wanting to go see the Ice must venture to the fairgrounds. This is not a massive trek by any means, but as I’ve found in my years of living here, it is hard to get someone to go anywhere outside of the downtown district. Additionally, this implies that the vast majority those showing up are the committed hockey fans.

If you are uncertain about the point I was just making, think about this. When the Ice played games at Conseco Fieldhouse, their average attendance in the building this season was 8,520. As they say in the business world, LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. A centralized location would do wonders for hockey in Indianapolis, but that is a topic for later in the week.

As for now I want to focus on attendance.

Remember the number from above? 3,697. This is the average attendance for a junior hockey team in a rather large U.S. city. For those unfamiliar with junior hockey, it is essentially high level high school hockey. These are some of the best high school aged players from all over the United States, with most of them playing for a college scholarship or in rare circumstances, a contract with an NHL team. The latter is much more common with the Canadian juniors, but with the USHL it is more aimed at getting the kids a scholarship with a Division I school.

Well, let’s compare the attendance of Indy’s USHL team to the attendance numbers of some minor league teams.

The Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL averaged 3,887 this season. So in other words, a “AA” minor league team in Cincinnati is drawing only 190 more people per game than a junior team in Indy. In fact when you look at ECHL attendance overall, Indy with a junior team would rank 16th out of 21 teams. Sure it is not super impressive, but take into account the disparity in levels of play.

What about the mighty AHL? This is a league that features the top prospects in the world, only one step from the NHL. Now for those not that familiar with minor league hockey, the structure of the minors with hockey is not like baseball. While in baseball some of the top prospects may spend most of their time in AA before just forgoing AAA, hockey does not do this. AHL teams are stacked with the top prospects and best replacement players. While some players may spend their entire career in the AHL, it is not like the parking lot that is AAA baseball.

So what about the AHL, where would our lowly junior team rank in their attendance? 26th out of 30. Again this may not seem that shocking, but keep in mind that we’re watching high schoolers and they are watching the best hockey outside of the NHL. To me, that’s mind-blowing.

Now, say that the Ice started to advertise and consistently play at Conseco Fieldhouse. Since the sample size for the Fieldhouse is small and could have contributed to such a high number, we’ll assume that the Ice draw 5,304. (I got this number from weighting the average attendance twice, adding it to the Fieldhouse number and dividing by three.)

If the Ice were able to bring in 5,304 on average they would rank 6th out of 21 teams in the ECHL and 11th out of 30 AHL teams. In both leagues 5,304 is higher than the league average and seems like number that Indy would consistently hit.

To believe that Indy does not have a higher level team due to interest is a ridiculous thing to believe. When a junior team is outdrawing top level minor league teams, it is safe to say there is still a strong interest in hockey within the Circle City. WTF, Indianapolis?!?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2010 1:52 pm

    Interesting stuff. I can’t believe we ranked at all in the AHL. It’s about time someone from the city read this post and started asking around!

  2. Neil permalink
    September 22, 2010 11:13 pm

    This is a GREAT article. I’m new to Indy and I like it here EXCEPT for the absence of higher level hockey. Prior to moving here I spent a year and a half going to college up in Minnesota where there’s an outdoor rink at basically every park in the state. Hockey is everything there and I wish it could be a fraction of that here.

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