Present and Accounted For
As the KHL is on its annual November break for international play, and the league’s 2017-18 season is only just past its halfway point for most teams, this seems a useful juncture at which to take a peek at some attendance figures for the current campaign. This is especially so this season, with the league’s new strategic plan underway and contraction looming for three clubs next spring; attendance is most certainly one of the criteria the KHL will be looking at when it comes time to determine the unlucky trio. Read on, then…
After some thought, I decided to go through this team-by-team, and I’ve ranked them according to a completely off-the-cuff and ad hoc system upon which you may feel free to heap scorn in the comments if you like. The teams are arranged, from best to worst, according to the average of their league ranks in three areas: average attendance per home game, average percent of capacity per home game, and the change in average attendance over last season at this time. You can see all the data on a spreadsheet here; it should be fairly self-explanatory, but do let me know if there is any confusion.
The number after the dash in each team’s listing is the average attendance per home game this season (“raw attendance”), while in brackets are the average percent of capacity, and the team’s change in raw attendance per game versus where they were last season at the November break. One final note before we start: due to an arena scheduling conflict in October, Traktor Chelyabinsk hosted Kunlun Red Star Beijing in a game that was officially a home date for the Chinese side. That game’s attendance has been included in Traktor’s figures, not Kunlun Red Star’s.
SKA St. Petersburg — 11769 (95.68%, +394): In a season where the on-ice product has been dominant, SKA top the attendance leaderboard as well: best in the KHL in raw attendance, second in percent of capacity, and with the eighth-biggest jump over last year at this time.
Lada Tolyatti — 5538 (92.3%, +1791): If Lada are to be one of the three clubs removed from the KHL after this season, it won’t be the fans’ fault, despite the team’s lowly standings position (13th out of 14 in the East). Nearly 1800 more people per game is the second-biggest increase in the KHL, and the resulting percentage of capacity is fourth overall. The only downside: the Lada-Arena’s relatively small size (6000 seats) means that raw attendance ranks just 15th.
Jokerit Helsinki — 9857 (73.84%, +657): The famous Finnish club’s 50th-anniversary season has seen a pleasant jump in attendance (fifth-highest increase in the KHL), helped by the team’s strong performances on the ice. Jokerit’s raw attendance is third-best, although the percent of capacity ranks just 14th.
Sibir Novosibirsk — 7130 (96.09%, -270): Sibir’s financial woes, and resulting on-ice struggles, mean that they come in just 17th in change over last year; gone are the days of season-long perfect attendance at the Sibir Ice Palace, last achieved in 2015-16. But the Siberian club maintains its now-accustomed spot atop the “percent of capacity” leaderboard, and still ranks a reputable sixth in raw attendance.
Traktor Chelyabinsk — 6872 (91.63%, +129): While Traktor are just ninth in the East Conference standings at the moment, the Chelyabinsk fans have kept the faith. Traktor sit mid-tablish (13th) in change over last season, but are fifth in percent of capacity and eighth in raw attendance.
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl — 8115 (89.47, -127): Some early-season on-ice struggles have made for a very slight dip in Lokomotiv’s attendance (they rank 15th in change from last year), but this is still a well-supported team. Lokomotive sit at fourth overall in average number of folks in the stands, and at seventh in percent of capacity.
Metallurg Magnitogorsk — 6628 (86.03, -139): Magnitka’s talent exodus this summer (Chris Lee, Alexei Bereglazov, Danis Zaripov, and Viktor Antipin are the most notable names) took a fan or two with it; that drop of 139 people per game puts the defending East Conference champs at 17th in the KHL in change over last season. The good news: Metallurg are still ninth in raw attendance, and eighth in percent of capacity. And both Lee and Bereglazov have returned to Magnitogorsk for the remainder of the season.
Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod — 5137 (93.40, -107): The venerable Trade Union Sports Palace seats just 5500 fans, so Torpedo’s raw attendance number is low (17th in the league), and that slight drop over last season puts them at 14th in change. However, only Sibir and SKA fill their arenas more, percentage-wise, than Torpedo.
Amur Khabarovsk — 6495 (91.48, -355): Amur were dire for the first month or so of the season, which cost them some fans (they are 19th in change over 2016-17) in the short run. However, the well-supported Far Eastern club still ranks tenth in overall attendance, and sixth in percent of capacity. On-ice performance improved markedly in October, too, so these numbers may rise as the team pursues a playoff spot.
Barys Astana — 6395 (55.01%, +1818): The record-hunting Nigel Dawes is atop the KHL’s goal-scoring charts, with Linden Vey leading the league in points, and the Barys fans have taken note; no team has seen a bigger jump in attendance in 2017-18 than the Kazakh club, and Barys now sit 11th in overall spectators per game. The one dark cloud: that percent of capacity is fifth-lowest in the league, so there remains work to be done.
Dinamo Minsk — 11707 (77.60%, -1446): The Minsk-Arena is the KHL’s largest, holding just over 15000 spectators, so no real surprise that Dinamo do well in raw attendance, ranking second overall. Given that big rink, the Belarusans also do laudably well in percent of capacity, ranking tenth. That drop of 1446 fans per game, however, is the second-largest decline in the league, with early-season losses on the ice once again a likely culprit.
Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg — 4627 (83.44%, +246): Another team with the “small arena” double-edged sword (the KRK Uralets seats just over 5500), Avtomobilist rank just 19th in raw attendance but ninth in percent of capacity. Improvement on the ice — Avtomobilist missed the playoffs last season but currently sit fifth in the East — has led to a jump in attendance, with the team ranked 11th in change over last season.
Avangard Omsk — 7669 (74.33%, -1111): Avangard are turning in their usual strong season, so that drop in attendance (the KHL’s sixth-biggest decline) is a puzzler. However, the other numbers are decent or strong, as the Omsk side sits 13th in percent of capacity and an excellent fifth in average fans per game.
Ak Bars Kazan — 6215 (69.91%, +139): It’s all very middle-of-the-road when it comes to attendance at the East Conference powerhouse; Ak Bars rank 13th in raw attendance, 15th in percent of capacity, and 12th in change over last season.
CSKA Moscow — 3798 (67.82%, +529): The venerable Red Army team has been an attendance black hole for some time, to the puzzlement of KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko. But the message may be getting through (and the team’s excellence on the ice helps here): while CSKA rank just 21st in average attendance, and 17th in percent of capacity, that jump in number of fans over last season is the league’s sixth-highest.
Dinamo Riga — 5263 (51.10%, +1011): First the bad news: amidst another “bleah” season on the ice, Dinamo have the KHL’s third-lowest attendance by percent of capacity, and rank just 16th in average number of fans per game. The good news is that the team’s support is actually up more than a thousand per game last season, and that’s the league’s fourth-biggest jump.
Vityaz Moscow Oblast — 3720 (67.64%, +414): A small arena (5500 capacity) and a small city (Podolsk: pop. 200,000) work against Vityaz, as they rank just 22nd in average fans per game and 18th in percent of capacity. However, enthused by the team’s first-ever KHL playoff appearance in 2016-17, the Vityaz fans have posted the league’s seventh-biggest jump in attendance this season.
Salavat Yulaev Ufa — 6006 (74.42%, -868): The Ufa side has been great fun to watch for the last couple of seasons, but results in terms of wins and losses have a bit disappointing, and that may be taking its toll now. Salavat Yulaev have the KHL’s seventh-biggest attendance drop this season, although they are comfortably mid-table in the other categories (14th in raw attendance, 12th in percent of capacity).
Kunlun Red Star Beijing — 2735 (56.98%, +1113): In context, there has been some real progress here (that’s the league’s third-highest jump in attendance), although much work obviously remains to be done. KRS do still rank dead last in fans per home game, and just 20th in percent of arena capacity, but we must recall that they have been playing in a temporary home in Shanghai (site of real attendance problems in 2016-17) this season, in an arena that seats just 4800. Some scheduling confusion in October likely didn’t help either. On balance, I think we can actually be somewhat pleased at how things have gone for KRS on the attendance front so far in 2017-18.
Slovan Bratislava — 6932 (68.94%, -2020): Slovan have struggled on the ice and in their finances this season, although there is hope that a new long-term sponsor will be announced soon. In the meantime, Slovan have posted the league’s largest drop in attendance this season over last, and sit 16th in percent of capacity. The average number of fans per game, however, remains quite decent: seventh in the KHL.
Admiral Vladivostok — 4135 (75.18%, -1213): A drop of 1200 fans per game (the KHL’s fourth-biggest such decline over last season) is cause for alarm, especially when Admiral’s arena seats only 5500 to begin with. Percent of capacity remains a decent 11th, but raw attendance has fallen to 20th in the league. Mediocre on-ice form has not helped, but Admiral need to sort this out or — to be brutally frank — they risk finding themselves in the VHL in 2018-19.
Severstal Cherepovets — 3337 (55.03%, +344): On the ice, little Severstal are becoming a wonderful story this season as they push for a first playoff appearance since 2012-13, and the KHL’s ninth-biggest jump in attendance is a result. Cherepovets, however, is not a big place for a top-level hockey team (300,000 pop.), so Severstal rank third-last in raw attendance, and sixth-lowest in percent of capacity.
Spartak Moscow — 6269 (51.81%, -756): Spartak moved into the 12000-seat VTB Arena this season, and their average fans per game now ranks them 12th in the KHL, and first among the three Moscow giants. The other numbers are not so good: Spartak are 20th in change over last season, and fourth-worst in percent of capacity. The red-and-whites have shown some improvement on the ice lately, and we will see if the attendance figures head in a similarly good direction.
Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk — 3128 (56.87%, +286): Khanty-Manisysk is the KHL’s smallest outpost, with just 80,000 people, and that may mean that Ugra are VHL-bound after this season. In the meantime, they have the league’s second-lowest average attendance, understandably enough, and rank just 21st in percent of capacity. That increase over last season is a nice number, though — tenth-highest in the league!
Dynamo Moscow — 5034 (41.60%, -310): Hardly surprising, given the off-season turmoil, that Dynamo have suffered a drop in attendance this season; they rank 18th in change over 2016-17, and the same in raw attendance. That percent of capacity is a problem (they play in the same arena as Spartak); in fact, it’s the second-lowest in the KHL. Perhaps the biggest concern for Dynamo right now, though, is that they have played a league-high 19 home games, leaving them just nine more in what will be a tough second half of 2017-18.
Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk — 3489 (58.15%, -1419): Well ok, these numbers are awful (the third-biggest drop over last season, the fourth-lowest raw attendance, and ranked just 19th in percent of capacity). However, there may be reason for optimism, as Neftekhimik’s attendance figures were actually much worse a month or so ago. The team is enjoying its best season in basically forever (currently fourth in the East), and the fans have been turning out in increasing numbers. Don’t bet on Neftekhimik being ranked down here at season’s end.
A quick additional note here: Tomáš Vorčák notes that Neftekhimik gave away a lot of free tickets last season, particularly to factory workers, but that that promotion did not continue into 2017-18. That would certainly explain why Neftekhimik’s numbers plummeted to start this season, but it also makes even more impressive how far they have risen in the last month.
HK Sochi — 3677 (30.64%, -1186): There is little cause, unfortunately, for optimism here. A 12000-seat arena in a city of under 400,000 people far from the traditional hockey centres is a tough sell to begin with, and the team’s recent struggles, both sporting and financial, have not helped. The Black Sea team is dead last in percent of capacity, and fifth-worst in both raw attendance and change over last season.
Just a repeat here: the amassed data (sorted as above) are on a spreadsheet that you can see here.
The overall average attendance per team so far in 2017-18 is 5988, just ahead of the 5920 of last season at the November break (it would be 6124 at season’s end). So a slight increase over 2016-17 so far, but… we have to recall that two teams have left the KHL, and both were below-average in terms of raw attendance last season. Medveščak Zagreb were sitting at 5136 fans per game at this point in 2016-17, while Metallurg Novokuznetsk were a dire 3082. So basically we would expect the league-wide average attendance to have increased a bit more than it has, and I am sure President Chernyshenko thinks likewise. On the other hand, the KHL’s new strategic plan has been in full operation for just a couple of months — far, far too early to be pushing any panic buttons.
And finally, a quick note on how the attendances break down by Conference. Here we find that honours are shared: The West has the higher average number of fans per game (6508, compared to the East’s 5504), while the East leads in percent of capacity (75.8% to 66.3%). That makes perfect sense, when we consider that the league’s five biggest arenas, and seven of the top nine, are in the West, while six of the nine smallest buildings are in the East.
We will check back in with the attendance numbers at the end of the season, to see how they’ve changed compared both to last season and to where they stand now. And we will begin to get a bit of a sense of how this new strategic plan will work out, at least in this aspect of things. Thank you for reading!