Creating The Monarchs Schedule
The creation of the American Hockey League’s schedule is a daunting task each year. The league’s staff begins constructing the schedule for 30 teams in the spring and then spends countless hours formulating the best scenarios for each club. The schedule for the 2013-14 season was announced on Thursday and many wonder how it came about that certain games are played on a particular day and why many teams only play within their conference.
The teams in the AHL will play 1,140 games during the 2013-14 season. Each of the 30 clubs will play 38 home games and 38 road games for a total of 76 games. The first step in creating the schedule is for each team to submit dates.
“The first thing you do is go and get the minimum dates from the building and you’re required to put in 55 dates to the league,” explained Monarchs President Darren Abbott. “You have to have 55 at a minimum that goes to the league. Some of those are preferred dates and some of them are secondary dates. You have to have a certain amount of preferred dates out of those 55 and then a certain amount of secondary. The challenge becomes that every team wants weekend dates and every team wants the best dates. The more quality dates that you put forth, the better off your schedule’s going to be.”
These preferred and secondary dates are sent to the league at the end of the season and then the schedule really starts to come together about a month later.
“You then fill in a narrative on why you want certain big dates,” continued Abbott. “For example, Opening Night; we would say we want our Opening Night this year on October 19. The last two years, we opened up on a Friday. This year, we’re opening up on a Saturday. You’d put that in the narrative; here’s why we’re doing it. The narrative is both business related and hockey related. When I start getting looks at schedules, I send them to Hubie (McDonough). He’ll give me his two cents on where it lines up. When you go through the narrative, you put Opening Night, Pink (In The Rink) Night, New Year’s Eve, the big nights. You explain to the league why you want these on certain nights. For example, you need to put in if Pink Night is on a Saturday, we can’t play at home on that Friday because they’ve got to make the pink ice. All those things have to be laid out for the league so when they go to make your schedule, they can think from your perspective. It’s not just dates on a calendar. They know why, specifically, we want those dates.”
Many teams want similar dates, such as weekends, so the narrative helps you state your case as to why you should have your game on that Saturday rather than being on the road. One advantage that Manchester has is that on their big games, they get big crowds and the league is aware of it from an attendance perspective and from a revenue perspective so that helps their cause. There is a big difference between a Wednesday night crowd and a Saturday night crowd in Manchester and that is not lost on the league. Some teams have similar attendance every night of the week so it does not matter as much to them like it does in Manchester.
Once teams put in their narrative, the league starts plugging in dates and routing teams on a giant board. Then teams have individual conference calls with the league to go over their narrative.
“They’ll ask you about three-in-threes,” Abbott said. “They’ll ask you about the travel. They’ll ask you about playing the same team twice in a row at home. Some teams are very particular about those issues. We’re concerned about our players’ safety first and foremost but beyond that, if we play Providence two nights in a row at home, that’s not a big concern of ours. Some teams don’t like that. For example, St. John’s will play us Friday, Saturday here, that doesn’t bother us at all. They have to do that with every team (at home) and it’s not easy. It’s hard to sweep a series so when you think of St. John’s predicament, every team that comes in there, it’s a series, and it’s hard to get those two games. Out of fairness, if we have to go there and play a series with St. John’s, every team that comes in that building, they play a series. I don’t see a problem with playing two in a row. Hubie doesn’t. We’re all league partners. We try to do what’s best for everybody. I think that’s sort of the main thing too. We fight on the ice, but off, we try to be partners. Everyone wants it to be fair, everyone wants it to be safe and everybody wants to have as many people as possible come in and watch the game. Everyone’s coming from the same angle. I think that’s what kind of makes it fun. You do some horse trading and if you scratch my back here, I’ll scratch your back there. You help people out.”
Following the conference call, teams get their eight guaranteed dates. These dates are usually announced in the spring and give teams the opportunity to start branding those big games. For example, New Year’s Eve was one of the Monarchs guaranteed dates so the team could start planning their post-game fireworks show in the spring and the group sales department could start calling groups and get them booked for the game.
The next step in the schedule making process involves going back to the building for additional dates.
“Before the first draft comes out, you go back to the building; has anything changed from the dates that we submitted,” continued Abbott. “Did we get more? Many times you get more dates added right there and that’s key because when a concert comes into a building, they might hold three-to-five dates in maybe February. That’s huge for us. Say that concert comes in and he picks the Sunday of that week, now the Friday and Saturday just came open. Now you can get those dates off to the league and they have more flexibility to put games in on the weekends in Manchester. That’s a key to it. That happens in late June; early July is kind of when you go back to that.”
Finally, teams start getting drafts of the schedule.
Abbott explained, “We probably started getting drafts three or four weeks ago. And that’s just your first crack with the league to go through the first draft and just see if something is crazy. For example, we’re playing in Norfolk one night and we’re supposed to be in Portland the next. Things like that the league can miss. So when we get the first draft, it sits in front of me; it sits in front of Hubie; we both look at it with two sets of eyes. We chat; it looks good; looks good; don’t like this; don’t like that; share that with the league. They buff it out a little bit.”
Once the first draft is out, that is when teams start horse trading. They swap Saturday dates or see when they have open dates to move a game into. Each team receives a master grid of every game that’s scheduled throughout the AHL. Teams can then try to move off of bad dates or if an organization has too many games at the end of the season, changes can be made.
The Monarchs schedule this season was completed and announced on Thursday. The team has 35 of their 38 home games on the weekends which is great for the organization.
“We got lucky,” said Abbott. “This is a great schedule from a business standpoint. I do think it ebbs and flows a little bit. Last year’s schedule was not good from a business standpoint. We had a lot of games before Christmas; we had a lot of weekdays; we had a lot of stretches where we played a ton of games. The holidays are great but right before the holidays are not great and we had a ton of games last year right before Christmas. This schedule is really, really good for us this year in that Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are our strongest. We had extra Saturdays so we’re going to play three of them at three o’clock this year because we want to see how our fans react to a three o’clock Saturday. We’re trying one in the fall, one in the winter and one in the spring just to see how it goes over. Frankly last year, we didn’t have enough Saturday’s to be able to take that risk. I think the fans are going to like it.”
Not only are weekend games good from a business standpoint, it is also good for the players.
“I haven’t gone through it thoroughly but weekend games are generally better for atmosphere and that’s good for our young kids,” explained Monarchs Director of Hockey Operations Hubie McDonough. “We wanted to get rid of those mid-week games. It’s a good grind for the young guys; the older guys know how to get through (three-in-three games). Sometimes it makes it a little tougher from March and April when those three-in-threes have worn them down and playing their seventy, seventy-second game, it’s tough. But that’s the nature of the beast and you’re a professional now and we work through it.”
The schedule is set. The promotional schedule will be announced in the next couple of weeks and then the players will arrive in the Queen City to start the Monarchs 13th season in the Jungle.