American Hockey League Attendance: A Study of Fan Preferences for Fighting, Team Performance, and Promotions

By Paul, Rodney J.; Weinbach, Andrew P. et al. | International Journal of Sport Finance, February 2013 | Go to article overview

American Hockey League Attendance: A Study of Fan Preferences for Fighting, Team Performance, and Promotions


Paul, Rodney J., Weinbach, Andrew P., Robbins, Daniel, International Journal of Sport Finance


Abstract

Due to recent deaths of known enforcers in professional hockey, the role of fighting in the sport has come under increased scrutiny. This study examines the role of fighting, along with other factors, as it relates to attendance in the top developmental minor league for the NHL, the American Hockey League (AHL). AHL fans are shown to respond favorably to fighting, with more fans attending games when the home team fights more often. Fans are also shown to respond to the opponent and to a wide range of promotions, which were tabulated from team websites and included in the model.

Keywords: attendance, sports economics, hockey, violence

American Hockey League Attendance: A Study of Fan Preferences for Fighting, Team Performance, and Promotions

The hockey world has recently been met with unfortunate tragedies. Deaths of current and past players, who typically played the role of enforcers on their teams, have again turned the focus of debate on to the role of fighting in professional hockey. Enforcers are players who earn their living by protecting other members of their team through their physical play. This physical play often manifests itself as on-ice fighting with opposing team players. Discussions of the role of fighting and its impact on brain injuries has led to renewed calls for a ban on fighting in the sport of hockey.

Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard, and Rick Rypien, who all recently played in the NHL, the top hockey league in the world, each passed away in 2011. Although none of these deaths were directly related to on-ice fights during a game, medical experts and many in the media have suggested that fighting contributed to the early deaths of these players. In addition to these young players, retired longtime NHL enforcer Bob Probert also died of a heart attack in 2011 at the age of 45. Probert was a very popular enforcer during his career in the NHL. In autopsy, it was found that a degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy existed in the brain of Bob Probert. This disease has been linked to the brains of boxers and other deceased athletes in highly physical sports, including another former NHL player (and known fighter), Reggie Fleming. It was speculated that an important factor leading to this degenerative disease in the brain of Probert was a long history of blows to the head. This again increased the fervor of those opposed to fighting in the NHL to call for its ban.

On the medical side, the debate about fighting has recently been waged by experts in the field. Dr. Rejendra Kale (2011), in an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, called for an outright ban of fighting in hockey due to its impact on brain injuries. Similar sentiments were raised by a neurosurgeon in Toronto, Dr. Charles Tator (2009), who stated that clear evidence exists that blows to the head lead to degeneration of the brain in hockey players. Dr. Robert Cantu, an expert in head trauma, also echoed these sentiments.

On the other side of the battle of medical experts were Dr. Ruben Echemendia and Dr. David Milzman. Dr. Echemendia (2001), former president of the National Academy of Neuropsychology, stated there was not enough evidence to establish a link between hockey fights and brain injuries. Dr. Milzman, of the Georgetown University School of Medicine, stated in an interview with HealthDay News that his working research revealed that fights in hockey rarely cause any injuries, including brain trauma.

As this debate continues to rage in the media, the medical profession, and throughout the hockey world, the obvious question that needs to be asked is why would professional hockey leagues keep fighting in the game if there is any evidence that fighting may lead to brain injuries. One answer lies in the game itself, as many players, coaches, and analysts state that the game is actually safer due to fighting, as the players police themselves. Without fighting in the game, they argue that dangerous stick work and hits will increase if there is not fear of retribution in the minds of the players on the ice. …

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