The Komets lead the 18-team Central Hockey League with an average attendance of 7,405 fans per game at Memorial Coliseum, which is the third highest in all of minor-league hockey behind Hershey (9,481) and Manitoba (8,201) of the higher-level American Hockey League.
But it has still seemed eerily silent at the Coliseum this season.
That’s because there have been more empty seats there than any season since 2004-05.
After winning three straight championships in the International Hockey League, which had only seven teams last season, the Komets’ move to the more-established CHL was supposed to invigorate the fan base.
Thanks to the Komets’ subpar start – they lost 16 of their first 21 games – that hasn’t necessarily been the case.
It’s tough on everybody when you have more than 7,000 people coming out and you can’t win at home, Komets goaltender Kevin Reiter said.
And even though the Komets (21-19-5) have been the hottest team in the league recently, winning 8 of 9 games, things still haven’t caught up at the gate. Over the last five home games, four of which were victories, the Komets averaged 7,470 fans.
I think the team not playing well at home for such a long period of time has a lot to do with it. I would say 75 percent of what we’re seeing in the down number is the way we’ve played, Komets president Michael Franke said.
The Komets are 11-10-3 at the Coliseum this season, uncharacteristic considering they were 82-19-13 at home the last three seasons.
In each of the last five seasons, the Komets’ average attendance had been higher than the season before.
There were a lot of nights (this season) when the effort was not good, Franke said. It’s like a bad movie. No one is out there talking about a bad movie, and there were a lot of bad movies in this building for awhile.
Moving to the CHL has also left the Komets without any natural rivals; the Dayton Gems are the only team within five hours. Until the fans get passionate about seeing particular teams, Franke acknowledged, turnstile numbers may remain smaller.
And the CHL’s product, which features younger and faster players, is just different.
There was a larger propensity of what I would call skill’ in the IHL, Franke said, and there’s a larger propensity of activity and activeness among the players in this league. This has more skating, more in-your-face type of hockey, and maybe some people are still getting used to that.
Despite the drop in attendance, which didn’t coincide with a raise in single-game ticket prices, Franke isn’t blaming the economy.
We don’t like to blame that type of stuff on the economy, Franke said. People are still looking for a way to get out and get entertained. We have our work cut out for us in the (rest) of the season. But all in all, we’re pretty happy with how things have gone (in sales).
Smaller crowds or not, the players and coaches are ecstatic to have such a rabid fan base.
The fans, they’re like a seventh player on the ice, and they just push us to be the best we can be, head coach Al Sims said.