With all home dates competed for the season in college hockey, it's that time of year to look at attendance numbers. And on the surface it's not pretty for Atlantic Hockey.
The conference occupies the bottom nine spots in average attendance for the 2014-15 season which on first blush looks pretty bleak.
But average attendance doesn't take into account size of the rink. Of the 10 rinks in Division I men's hockey with the lowest seating capacity, Atlantic Hockey teams occupy eight of those. If Canisius oversold HarborCenter to its 2,000 total capacity every night, they still would only rank 44th nationally in average attendance. But if you averaged near 2,000 a game in HarborCenter, that would be one heck of an atmosphere.
Taking a look at capacity percentage, Atlantic Hockey isn't horrible.
RIT played to 76.9 percent capacity in its new Polisseni Center this year, averaging 3,307 in the 4,300-seat rink. Robert Morris was at 76.6 percent capacity at 84 Lumber Arena although their average of 842 was one of the lowest in the country.
Canisius averaged 1,087 for its home games (including two played at First Niagara Center). While HarborCenter's official seating capacity is 1,800 there is room for another 200 standing-room fans, hence the announced 2,000 attendance for both games opening weekend against Ohio State. The Griffs averaged 60.4 percent capacity this season, not bad considering a lost sellout when Kids' Day was snowed out, many home dates coinciding with college breaks and a generally bad driving winter even by Buffalo standards.
For the record, this was the first season the Griffs averaged over 1,000 fans a game. Their best attendance year at the Buffalo State Ice Arena (capacity also 1,800) was 842 per game in the 2008-09 season.
Niagara has consistently drawn more than 1,000 fans to Dwyer Arena. Their best year was 2008-09 when the Purps drew 1,357 to a game.
The one problem with Dwyer is the ever changing capacity number. Box scores from the 2000-01 season show 1500 as a sellout. Capacity increased to 2,100 -- still listed as capacity on the USCHO website -- although the school now lists capacity as 1,400.
Using the USCHO formula, Niagara's 1,065 attendance average meant the Purps played to 50.7 percent capacity this season.
Also looking at capacity percentage you find this: Atlantic Hockey isn't doing all that bad. Sure Sacred Heart (220 average attendance, 22 percent) and American International (233, 19.4 percent) are bringing up the college hockey caboose.
Consider that Ohio State ranked 15th in average attendance with 4,836 but that only filled 27.6 percent of the Value City Arena.
Averages and percentages aside, there are many additional layers to attendance and Atlantic Hockey could do better to promote itself, not just nationally but in its own markets. Ask most Western New Yorkers to name the other teams in the conference and they'll probably come up with RIT. Maybe Mercyhurst and Robert Morris. They have no clue where Bentley is, think of Sacred Heart a local high school and have no clue what AIC is. When building a fan base, the perception of the opponent plays a role and the conference could do a better job promoting its brand.
Meanwhile the conference got what it hopes for every year -- a berth for RIT in the semifinals. The Atlantic Hockey tournament held in Blue Cross Arena predictably draws its best crowds when the local Rochester Institute of Technology is in the field. The No. 3 seeded Tigers play Canisius in the late semifinal Friday night. Their game will begin an hour after the conclusion of the 5 p.m. semi between Robert Morris and Mercyhurst.