Half of the 31 current NHL teams feature AHL affiliates who are located within 150 miles of their home ice. If you expand that radius to 250 miles, the number jumps to 61%.
I find it hard to believe that an NHL team in Seattle will do damage to WHL attendance but there is an argument to be made that an AHL team would.
While it’s more likely that the Seattle AHL affiliate ends up in either California or Idaho, it’s worth discussing the impact if it were to follow tide and stick close to home. The two likely cities within that range being Portland and Spokane.
It comes down to price points
The average price of tickets being sold during the 2018-19 NHL season has been at the cost of just over $117. Of course, there are outliers impacting that number as the Florida Panthers have an average ticket price of $68, the lowest in the league, and the Toronto Maple Leafs sit at $271, the highest. Regardless, that is a significant difference between the $21 for a second-row center ice ticket at tomorrows game between the Everett Silvertips and Spokane Chiefs.
The gap closes when you begin comparing a WHL ticket to that of an AHL game.
On Wednesday, the San Jose Barracuda face-off against the Bakersfield Condors where the same seat location costs $40. If you shift to the corner, three rows up, that price drops to $17. For the same price you can stay center ice and move up to row 20.
So yes, while an NHL team shouldn’t price out the WHL, an AHL team in either Portland or Spokane could cause some issues.
With that said, there is one key point which I believe would prevent that.
Fans are loyal
WHL fans love their players. They take them in and house them, they buy their favorite jerseys, and get their cards signed. It comes with the territory when a player can spend their entire junior career with a single team.
To use a Herb Brooks quote, “the name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back” when it comes to the AHL. What I mean by this is that players rarely spend significant time with one team. Half of the roster is “on the bubble” in terms of being sent down to the ECHL, cut, shipped in part of a larger trade, or sitting on the bench in the NHL.
For example, here are the February transactions – minus the first four days – between the Colorado Avalanche, the Colorado Eagles (AHL), and the Utah Grizzlies (ECHL):
That is 24 transactions featuring 17 different players being called up, down, or cut – within 20 days.
Such movement makes it really hard to follow the player and requires fans to support the team as a whole – regardless of what players are on the ice. A team can spend the entire season in the top two spots, have their players called up for the end of the NHL season, and get knocked out in the first round. It’s simply the nature of the beast.
Fans will absolutely flock to the barn to watch Seattle prospects, but those that want the true fan experience of watching their players develop as their team make moves to compete for a championship – without having to spend $350 for a family of three – will likely continue to support their WHL team.