The steady decline in attendance at men's senior hockey games in central and western Newfoundland could be threatening the existence of the league.
'You can fundraiser all you want, you can't replace a fan just because of a fundraiser.' - Neil Norcott, Central West Senior Hockey League President
The Central West Senior Hockey League — which includes the Clarenville Caribous, Corner Brook Royals, Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts and Gander Flyers — has been dealing with poor ticket sales for years now, according to league president Neil Norcott.
"It's not something that's new to this year, it's a trend that's been happening for the last three years," said Norcott
While other factors come into play, like fundraising, Norcott mainly attributes the drop in numbers to rule changes that were made by Hockey Canada.
Losing its lustre
Norcott said Hockey Canada removed the "two fight rule," which means a player is immediately expelled from a game if they get into a fight.
'I think the one thing we truly need to get back to, is a little bit more intense brand of hockey.' - Neil Norcott, Central West Senior Hockey League President
This change, he said, means the game doesn't have the same entertainment value for many fans as the traditional game.
"There is still an opportunity for physical activity in the game, but the pendulum has swung more to the finesse side than it has the rough and tumble side," Norcott told CBC's Central Morning Show.
"Some of the characters that we had in our league for years … that were brought in for that physical toughness, no longer are part of our game and the new rule doesn't provide for that type of player."
Empty seats, he said, can be discouraging for a team and coaches — as well as the loyal fans that continue to attend games.
Norcott said it's hard for anyone to get excited about a game when a stadium is half-full.
"A live stadium that's full of boisterous fans certainly provides an atmosphere that's not only exciting for the fans, but it's energetic for the players as well."
Writing on the wall
The provincial senior hockey league has been in rough shape before. After the 1989 season, the league was forced to fold for financial reasons.
Norcott said the organization works hard to ensure the league has the financial stability to continue but, like any event, seasons can have their ups and downs.
Norcott believes the league could suffer a familiar fate if things don't change.
"Attendance is the big factor to keep senior hockey alive and without good strong attendance it's certainly going to have its struggles."
"You can fundraiser all you want, you can't replace a fan just because of a fundraiser."
No simple answer
The league holds planning meetings regularly to discuss its future but Norcott feels it needs some innovative ideas to revive a playoff atmosphere and sell more tickets.
"Obviously it's still good hockey, we have some great caliber hockey players in our league," said Norcott.
"There is no easy solution to this, but I think the one thing we truly need to get back to is a little bit more intense brand of hockey."