ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski spoke with the commissioners of the ECHL, AHL and SPHL–three of North America’s most important minor pro hockey leagues–regarding their respective attempts to return to play in a coronavirus world.
I was particularly intrigued by AHL commissioner Scott Howson’s comments as they pertain to the Red Wings’ independently-owned AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Griffins need fans in the stand to make playing this season worthwhile, and right now, that’s hard to envision:
[What’s] harder to predict is who might be able to watch these games. The AHL averaged 5,538 fans per home game last season, led by Cleveland (9,043) and dragged down by Stockton (2,781).
“Just having some capacity for fans in the building is a big, big issue for us,” he said. “If we don’t have that, then that’s going to limit some teams on their desire and ability to play.”
Teams and arenas are already in communication with local governments regarding the potential to have fans at AHL home games next season, including discussions of what COVID-19 precautions they’ll need to take to make that possible.
“Right now, we have seven of our markets that can host, to varying degrees, people in the stands. We’re hoping that’s going to improve. But ticket sales are the largest economic driver in our world,” Howson said.
Another challenge: selling tickets, given that many people who normally would have sold them were laid off or furloughed when the season was paused and then canceled.
“Many of our teams have furloughed their revenue-drivers, their sales staff, because nobody’s thinking about season tickets right now. Some of our teams have kept staff on. There’s a wide variance of what teams have done,” Howson said. “A lot our teams are going to have to ramp up not just ticketing staffs but their whole staffs when we know when we’re going to start.”