Document Type



October 2011


Economics | Finance and Financial Management | Sports Management


Regional differences in fan preferences for minor league hockey in the United States are explored using simple linear regression models. The top-level minor league for the NHL, the American Hockey League (AHL), was studied for the 2008-09 season. Key attributes with respect to attendance are studied for hockey including population, income per capita, promotions, scoring, and winning percentage. In addition, a key socio-economic variable, fighting is also investigated. Major differences are found for fan preferences across geographic regions in relation to population, income per capita, a variety of promotions, and team success. In addition, fan reaction to fighting tends to differ greatly by region, with it having a positive effect in the Mid-Atlantic (East Division) and Western (West Division) regions, but having a negative and significant effect in the New England-area (Atlantic division).

An attendance model for the top minor hockey league in North America, the American Hockey League (AHL), is specified and a variety of factors which may influence fan attendance are studied. Game-by-game attendance figures were gathered from the AHL website,, along with the day of the game, team records, team scoring, and per-game fight data. Demographic data were gathered for the cities which host AHL franchises and, in addition, promotional data from individual team websites and pocket calendars were collected and converted into dummy variables representing different types of promotions. Upon gathering the data, it became apparent that substantial regional differences appeared to exist in fan preferences for certain attributes. Therefore, regressions for the overall league and for each individual division, to account for regional differences, were run and the results are presented.

A focus is placed on a variety of factors to attempt to determine what influences fan decisions to attend AHL hockey games. One key variable examined is the role of fighting, which has been explored in the NHL before in Jones, Stewart, and Sunderman (1996) and Paul (2003). In these papers, fighting was shown to have a positive and significant effect on attendance. The importance of winning, which may or may not be as important at a minor-league level as compared to a major-league level, was also studied on a game-by-game basis throughout the season. A proxy for in-game excitement, scoring in these games, was also tested. Promotions were also studied which include events, merchandise giveaways, reduced food and beverage prices, group nights, etc. These data were used to determine how much of an impact, if any, these promotions have on attendance.

Upon gathering and studying the data, it became apparent that there are some key regional differences in fan preferences for AHL games. To illustrate this, the regression model for the AHL as a whole is also run for each of the four divisions. The four divisions consist of the Eastern Division (Mid- Atlantic Region), Atlantic Division (New England), North Division (Canada, Western NY, Ohio), and West Division (Midwest US – both Northern and Southern). A full listing of the team cities and their division is given in Appendix I at the conclusion of this paper. These regional distinctions illustrate where certain performance-based variables and demographic variables differ for AHL Fans in relation to attendance.

The paper proceeds as follows. A simple game-by-game attendance model for the AHL is set up and the dependent and independent variables are explained. The regression results are presented and explained in the context of their relationship with per-game attendance. Regional differences are then explored by division. Discussion of the results and conclusions occur in the final section.

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