dimanche 2 juin 2013

Big City Winners, Small Town Dreamers: City Size and Junior Hockey Success

Teams in big cities have had more success over the past 12 years than small town teams on the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Major Junior circuit.  More important, though, is that teams that draw bigger crowds have a better chance of winning, regardless of the size of the city.  The same thing can be said, to a lesser extent, about teams that are able to fill a larger percentage of their buildings.

An in-depth look at the past 12 seasons of Major Junior hockey in all three CHL member league (QMJHL, OHL and WHL) confirmed my hypothesis without making me ring all the alarm bells up to Commissioner David Branch’s door.  Selling tickets and being an important focal point in the community is more important than being in a big city, a finding which is both expected and comforting.  Still, year-over-year success is more likely in a big city than a small town.

The following graphs display both the number of times a team has made the playoffs and their success based on a formula that attributes five points for a Memorial Cup win, four for a league championship and one for each playoff round won and for each time the team made the playoffs.  The average over 12 years is 21.2 points in the CHL for teams having played all 12 years in the same city.

“Big” Winners: The Past 12 Years
Times in playoffs
Size of City
Small town (0 to 99,999)
Medium (100,000 to 399,999)
Big (above 400,000)
Over the past 12 years, big cities have fielded more successful major junior teams in the CHL than small towns as the above stats clearly indicate.  However, there is no clear advantage to being a big city in terms of making the playoffs.  In all three member leagues, most teams make the playoffs.  That means that the big city teams are more likely to go further in the playoffs, win a league championship and a Memorial Cup. 

The correlation of city size to success is not very high at 0.22 but it is quite simple to think of why it might be the case.  A team in a big city is likely to have a bigger rink, more fans and perhaps more revenue streams.  That likely means they can hire one extra scout, an additional trainer, keep a member of the coaching staff an extra year or two and perhaps most importantly, can offer a more substantial education package to one or two or three youngsters that might otherwise opt for the college route.

By no means does this data indicate that small town teams cannot have one or many championship runs and be successful year-over-year.  It simply illustrates that currently, they must really make a run if they are to reach the top echelons of junior hockey.  Bigger city teams have a greater capacity to be strong each year and make that extra push only when they feel all the pieces are there.  The lows are usually a little less low.

Same Story : 5 years
Times in playoffs
Size of city
Small town (0 to 99,999)
Medium (100,000 to 399,999)
Big (above 400,000)

The trend might actually be improving if only the past five years are to be taken into account.  While teams in big cities still have the advantage, it is not as important as it was over the long run and each time has made the playoffs an almost equal amount of times.

Bring People, Will Win
Times in playoffs
Attendance Average
Lots (Above 4007)
Many (2500-4006)
Few (below 2500)



The highest correlation between dependent and independent variable is between success and the number of fans attending games at 0.507.  If you bring in more fans, regardless of the size of your city, you are likely to have a more successful.  Others might see the relation as opposite: you are likely to bring in more fans if you have a more successful team, though this is not always true.  Playoff attendance is not taken into account so it is really based on regular season performance leading to playoff success on the ice and a virtuous circle.

Fill ‘Er Up to Get the Cup
Times in playoffs
High (Above 80)
Medium (70 to 80)
Low (up to 69,9)

Teams will smaller rinks might find some comfort in the fact that a full rink leads to a bit more playoff success than does an empty one though here the relation might actually be reversed.  In any case, the virtuous circle persists here.  Some teams clearly have rinks that are too small and others too large but those probably even out in the end.

A few more details on this study might be useful to include, such as the fact that I only found the Q’s attendance records for the past three years and that franchises that moved were not counted.  Still, I think it statistically confirms a lot of what observers of junior hockey already understand intuitively and might have noticed at this year’s Memorial Cup tournament where Saskatoon, Halifax, Portland and London participated.  They represent some of the bigger cities in junior hockey.

Naturally, this study brings up additional questions such as which of the three leagues is best and which is worse in this regard?  What can and/or should be done about this phenomenon?  What effect will the penalties on Portland and Windsor have on education packages and parity?  Finally, a more in-depth look into the causal links between attendance and success (which comes first) would answer some questions and might provide instruction for new team owners.

I would be happy to include more details on my methodology if there is an interest.  I can be reached at canadiense19@gmail.com.  Thank you to my dad Michel Perron for using his accounting skills and love of Excel spreadsheets in reviewing the data and suggesting fields of questioning.

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