There isn’t a computer with a magic formula that just spits out the ECHL schedule. Instead, it comes as a culmination of many hours of work from ECHL Director of Communications Joe Babik and Manager of Hockey Administration Dan Petrino, with oversight from Commissioner Brian McKenna. It’s a process that starts in January and involves multiple conference calls, lost dates, changes, several drafts, and approval from each ECHL team before it concludes with the final version of the schedule which was released to the public on Tuesday afternoon.
To start the process, each ECHL team submits to the League Office by January 1st a minimum of 60 home dates they have available at their arena, for what will eventually become their 36 home dates. After submission of the available dates, the League Office holds a thorough conference call with each team to gauge their preference on dates, holidays, weekends, and travel preferences, among other factors.
Each team is also required to submit to the Office their ranking by preference on seven ‘holidays’ – Opening Night, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the Friday after Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, Martin Luther King Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Closing the season on a Saturday. For example, if you’re in Wheeling, your New Year’s Eve isn’t complete without attending the Nailers game that evening. If you’re in Atlanta, you know that if you’re off from work or school on Martin Luther King Day, you’ll be attending the Gladiators game.
From there, it becomes a puzzle – literally – for the ECHL Staff to fill in games on a magnetic board where each team is represented by a different colored magnetic shape, taking into consideration available dates, preferences of holiday dates, frequency of games with certain opponents, and distance to other ECHL teams. Not to mention, there are 972 games to schedule for.
"Creating the ECHL schedule each year is a lot like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle. There are 27 teams who each have their own preferences, so it is important to try to fulfill as many of their desires as possible. At the same time, we are trying to maximize the number of weekend dates for each team, as Friday and Saturday nights are obviously the big draws attendance wise across the League,” Babik explains.
This step of the process takes several weeks, and every time it inches near completion, things inevitably have to change as teams constantly lose available dates due to arena scheduling conflicts. After about six weeks, the schedule is usually ready for a draft release. At that point, it is sent out to all the ECHL teams for review. After being examined by the teams, the ECHL usually receives several other date changes/building availability questions that were not originally addressed in the planning of the first draft.
The ECHL works in fine detail through any additional conflicts that arose out of the draft sent to teams. After a resolution is determined for these, a final draft is meticulously reviewed, and once it is acceptable to the ECHL Office, it is shared with the ECHL teams.
For several years, the League did use an outside company with a computerized model to develop the schedule, in conjunction with League staff. However, due to the multitude of team preferences, the final touches invariably had to be done by hand.
At this point, every team had the ability to review the schedule draft and respond to the League Office with any comments or changes, with the ultimate goal of signing off on approval of the schedule. Once the schedule was signed off by all the ECHL teams, the teams had the option to release their home dates publicly. The entire 2017-18 ECHL schedule was released on Tuesday- details about the release can be found here.