By Jill Adler
ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna visited the Stockton Arena on Mar. 4, 2007, shortly after the league announced that Stockton, Calif. would host the 2008 ECHL All-Star Game. He also arrived one day after the Stockton Thunder posted its eighth sellout in the team’s second season.
Down in the bowels of the arena to escape the always noisy Thunder fans, McKenna spent a few minutes with ProHockeyNews.com, discussing the upcoming Kelly Cup Playoffs, the health of the league, and the future of the ECHL.
Heading into the second week of March, with the beginning of ECHL playoffs only a month away, McKenna pointed out the parity that exists this season in the league.
From the league’s perspective, we’re thrilled that we’re going into the month of March and basically heading into this weekend (Mar. 3), there were 24 out of 25 teams that were still in the hunt for playoff spots,” McKenna said. “I can’t remember a year where we’ve had that much parity and that many teams still in the hunt this late in the season. So that’s great. And not only good races for playoff spots, but I think there’s still an opportunity for a lot of teams to move in the seedings for the playoffs. So I think we’re going to have great races through the month of March, which is great for fans.”
McKenna also mentioned that last year’s playoffs provided some of the league’s best hockey playoff series in the history of the ECHL.
“We’re getting spoiled, I think. The last two or three years, we’ve had some great series,” he said. “Last year, I think, we had four of our series, the best of the sevens, that went the limit, and a couple of the earlier round ones as well that were very good series. So if we can duplicate that again this year obviously, it’s great for the league.”
Overall, the ECHL appears healthy in terms of fan attendance and interest throughout the league’s venues. However McKenna pointed out that in spite of an increase in returning team markets, attendance has flattened out when spread out over the league. Additionally, two teams that returned after being dark — Texas Wildcatters and Cincinnati Cyclones — have struggled to rebuild their respective fan bases.
“But on balance, I think things are going well. We’re on pace to have as many as 10 teams end the season with over 5,000 in average attendance, and again, I can’t remember another year where that’s happened. We’ve seen some great success stories. Here, in Stockton, leading the way, obviously, with a reception that the ECHL has gotten in the city and among the fan base here is very impressive. Also, Bakersfield, Las Vegas, Alaska. We have a lot of good news stories in the West,” he said. “And in the East, again, when you look at places like Florida, Gwinnett, Reading, certainly, we’re very happy with the way things are going there. So we’ll continue to work to try to help our teams that aren’t doing quite as well and again, hopefully, we’ll continue to have some of those strong markets carry the day as well.”