The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, May 12, 2020 2:00 pm

Making sense of social distancing in ECHL

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The Journal Gazette had a story today on Memorial Coliseum and what it’s going through financially. The link to it is below this post, so check it out. But what drew my eye was building vice-president and general manager Randy Brown talking about the effect social distancing would have on sports events at the Coliseum.

According to our reporter, Rosa Salter Rodriguez, Brown said keeping spectators at least 6 feet apart might not be impossible for Mad Ants or Purdue Fort Wayne basketball games, where demand for tickets isn’t that high, but it would mean a drastic change for the Komets. The capacity for hockey at the Coliseum could be cut from roughly 10,500 to 1,400.

That alone, in my opinion, would mean the ECHL couldn’t play unless those distancing guidelines are loosened.

Don’t get me wrong, they could do it in Fort Wayne, which averaged a league-high 8,090 fans per game. They could get as many fans in there as allowed and make it work, presumably prioritizing season-ticket holders.

But you’ve got to bear in mind that not many buildings in the ECHL are as spacious as they are in Fort Wayne, Tulsa, Cincinnati or Orlando.

When I think of scenarios, I find myself wondering, “How would they do it in Toledo?”

The Huntington Center is smaller (about 7,389 capacity) and almost always sold out. So could the Walleye get enough fans in there, while social distancing, to make it financially worthwhile?

Of course, demand for tickets is never a bad thing. But teams, even those in places like Wheeling, which averaged a league-worst 2,267 fans per game this season, might find themselves having more demand than supply if the league plays the 2020-21 season as scheduled. That could make it a big money-losing endeavor.

Think of Indy or Kalamazoo. Those are smaller venues, close to the action, and they averaged 3,891 and 3,001 fans (announced), respectively, per game this season. If we say, generously, only a quarter of their available seats could be used while social distancing, they might not be able to make that overhead work.

It’s not just about the rate of return on ticket sales to make up for things you’re thinking of, such as player and staff salaries. There are so many factors. In-game advertising, for instance. Imagine now selling a dasher board ad that will be seen by 1,400 fans instead of 8,090 per night. And a lot of teams have to pay rent for their buildings, and those agreements would have to be redefined.

All of this is to say, I thought the ECHL was ludicrous for announcing its schedule in April -- the Komets are slated to play their first home game Oct. 17 -- and I just don’t see how a Double-A minor-league carries on with limited, or no, fans in the buildings.

Here is the link to Rosa's story --

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