Mike Emrick is a Hockey Hall of Famer and one of the greatest broadcasters of all time. But few know that Emrick, the current voice of the NHL for NBC, got his start with the American Hockey League’s Maine Mariners and his affinity for the minor league remains strong even to this day.
This past weekend, Emrick made good on his yearly commitment to announce the Hershey Bears’ Hall of Fame inductees. While speaking to Chocolate Hockey’s Kyle Mace, Emrick filled everyone in on some secret plans the NHL never went through on.
Mike Emrick: “I understand the NHL actually looked into placing a franchise here at one time back when there was a war going on with the WHA. History says they wanted to put a franchise here. And I think they looked at all those attendance figures and probably Frank Mathers tweaked them a little bit by saying ‘We never stop selling tickets in Hershey. We never sell out, we keep selling tickets.’ They might be standing room, and boy I remember sitting here in 1980 when there were a lot of people standing three deep to watch a championship game. A part of that is I think a part of lure. And its realistic lure that there hasn’t been such a consistently supported team through the years. There have been ups and downs for a lot of franchises. Chicago had to play some road games in Omaha and St. Louis once upon a time. These are the same Blackhawks that get 22-thousand people a night. Detroit had some real up and down years at Olympia and Joe Louis Arena. When the Ilitch’s bought the franchise they had 1,200 season ticket holders. So it’s not been feast all the time for NHL teams. But here in Hershey, it’s been pretty consistent.”
Emrick said that Frank Mathers, who had a 35-year association with the Bears as a player, coach, general manager, and president, probably tweaked the attendance numbers when turning them into the NHL, but not by much.
Hershey’s attendance has always been the best or one of the best in the AHL. From the 60’s to 80’s the Bears averaged approximately 5-6k fans per game at Hersheypark Arena.
Hershey Bears attendance numbers all time. (Click to enlarge)
Since 2002, those numbers have grown to nearly 9,000 fans per game as the team moved to GIANT center, a venue which has a capacity of 10,500 people. The Bears have led the AHL in attendance 11 consecutive years.
Emrick mentioned the 1954-55 Chicago Blackhawks, who, per Hockey DB, averaged approximately 6,299 fans per game that year. During their 29th season in the NHL, the team was coming off a year where they set a franchise record for losses in a season and were struggling to draw people to attend games. The Blackhawks played eight games at a neutral venue; six in St. Louis, one in Omaha and one in Saint Paul.
While Hershey leads the AHL in attendance, the numbers are way lower than every NHL team’s average attendance. The Islanders, who average the lowest attendance of the 2017-18 season (11,475), draw nearly 3,000 more fans per game than the Bears (8,557).
An NHL team in Hershey would have been cool and widely accepted by people in the Harrisburg area. But thankfully they didn’t or the Caps wouldn’t have such an awesome AHL affiliate.
Headline photo: Kyle Mace
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