NHL fans did not run to AHL arenas to embrace minor-league hockey during the lockout.
Should hockey officials be worried about their sport because American Hockey League attendance did not increase dramatically while the NHL was locked out?
There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the sport of hockey—and in particular about the business of the NHL—but the AHL's failure to capitalize on the NHL lockout is not one of them.
Business concerns include television ratings, sponsorship and instability. But there is no reason to think that hockey fans don't love the game.
These fans were desperate to see their sport through the lockout. You might think that they would have gone many miles in any direction to get their fix.
However, it doesn't take long for fans to realize there's a major difference between the NHL and any other type of hockey.
Additionally, many fans who love the game also love the laundry.
You may live in Chicago and want to see hockey, but the Chicago Wolves' uniforms are no substitute for the Chicago Blackhawks' classics.
If you want to to see the Pittsburgh Penguins' colors, you are not going to be thrilled with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
The Providence Bruins' togs may remind you of the Boston Bruins, but they are not the same thing.
We love the NHL game and the NHL uniforms and nothing is going to substitute for that.
Initially, AHL attendance picked up during the first five weeks of the lockout (source: sportingnews.com). However, AHL attendance leveled off in late November/early December and it has left the league with familiar attendance figures.
The AHL is averaging 5,433 fans per game this season (source: AHL.com). Last year, an average of 5,638 fans attended AHL games.
The NHL should not be worried about fans who failed to embrace the AHL. In some ways, it's a compliment to the National Hockey League.
Fans want to see NHL hockey. They may have been angry with the league's management and the players for the lockout and that anger may cause them to stomp their feet and hurl oaths as a result of the war between the "billionaires and the millionaires," but that anger is not likely to be long lasting.
As games are played and the season moves along, fans will find their hockey addiction is stronger and more long-lasting than nearly any other in their lives.
They will put the games back on television and they will return to the arenas.
If the NHL ever decides to part company with commissioner Gary Bettman, the fans' hockey bond will become even stronger
Fans didn't show up en masse at AHL games even when they were the only games in town.
That's not a big deal and the fans will soon return to the NHL in big numbers.
Other aspects of the business may struggle, but the fans still love the game.