It's any small market team's wish, winning games to get fans in the stands. But does winning always mean box office success?
It will be interesting to see how fans react to the first-place Falcons, as they lead the Northeast Division of the American Hockey League with a 6-1-0-2 record. Last Friday's attendance at the MassMutual Center was a modest 3,489, which is still not where the Falcons should be at in today's AHL.
There are many obstacles in the Falcons' way, which they will have to overcome to draw fans in the building during a busy time of year. Football plays a big part of this, both professionally and high school. Friday night home games are always tough to draw fans away from high school football games, when half of the towns in Western Mass. have a game being played. The Sunday games will always be tough draws during football season, as NFL Sunday is hard to compete with no matter which sport is attempting to go up against it. As football season starts to end, the Falcons will have a much better shot at drawing attention to the team.
UMass hockey will mostly hurt the Falcons, but like the NHL, can also help the Falcons, as UMass' product is so great that it actually sells the sport to casual fans which may not typically think of attending a hockey game. Right now with UMass hockey drawing multiple crowds of over 7,000, they are a tough competition for the Falcons. Although Last Friday's UMass game was their smallest crowd of the season with 4,876 fans at the Mullins Center, Friday was an example of a night when the Falcons had to compete with UMass head-on.
One other obstacle that should be mentioned is the lack of the NHL do to the current lock-out. While this unofficially promotes the AHL to becoming the highest level of hockey in North America, an possibly the world, at the end of the day the AHL and the Falcons actually do need the NHL to keep fans engaged. Fans may always be interested in hockey, but having the NHL season provides a way to keep excitement about hockey in this country. Without the NHL, hockey will always be a tough sell.
As the Falcons are seeing great success on the ice, the franchise needs this success to show at the gate, plain and simple. The season began with a near-sellout, but will we see fans continue to come out in numbers to downtown Springfield? As the team keeps winning, it will be up to the fans to do their part and support this franchise.
Zachary Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs for Sports Business Boston.