While a lot of the international hype surrounding the KHL this year has focused on SKA St. Petersburg's big signings, questionable exhibition game tactics, coach firings and general struggles, the KHL's biggest market is hurting even more. The City of Moscow itself hosts 3 KHL teams, and two more teams exist in the suburbs and neighbouring cities/regions of Atlant and Chekhov. Five teams may seem like a lot for a league of 23, but it's actually one less than last year, as HC MVD and Dynamo Moscow merged to form United Hockey Club (UHC) Dynamo. In what has to be viewed as a massive coincidence, only Dynamo is having a good season... and quite a good one at that. Dynamo sits on top of the Bobrov Division and entire Western Conference, with 36 points as of Oct. 21. Immediately behind them sit Severstal Cheropovets, then Dinamo Riga, then Dynamo Minsk, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, then the beleaguered SKA St. Petersburg in 7th place. The final four spots in the Western Conference all belong to the other Moscow area clubs: Dominik Hasek's Spartak Moscow sits 8th; CSKA, the most decorated club in Russian hockey, is in 9th; Atlant is in 10th and Vityaz Chekov is in last, with only 7 points and 1 win so far this year (Spartak, CSKA and Atlant each have 18 points, half the total of Dynamo).
The Moscow fans are started to get fickle with the traditional teams, while the old fans of the original Dynamo, with some scattering of the MVD fans, are starting to adapt to the new team. The home opener on Sept. 23 vs. Barys Astana (admittedly not a top draw) was the season's low crowd of 3500. They recently had double that attendance for a Moscow derby game against Spartak on Oct. 7. Crowds are ranging from about 4400-5600 now in October, so the signs of improvement are there. Meanwhile, for the other Moscow area teams, the fans are starting to turn away.
||Ak Bars Kazan
||SKA St. Petersburg
||Atlant Moscow Oblast
||Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod
One home win in nine games is enough to keep the crowds away, and the attendance definitely fluctuates based on the opponent: cross town rivals Spartak are the top draw, while prestige teams like Kazan and SKA will bring out some fans, but the interest in the rest of the league (and let's face it, the team) is pretty terrible for Russia's most decorated club.
||UHC Dynamo Moscow
||Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod
||SKA St. Petersburg
Yeah, that's apparently right. 800 people for a game against Dynamo Minsk on Wednesday. As Spartak plummets in the standings, the fans are really showing their displeasure with their feet. Though they're still popular in CSKA's rink, Spartak aren't that popular at home. Some Moscow derbies might help, but wins would probably be better.
|Sept. 11||Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod||SOL, 0-1||6000|
|Sept. 13||Lokomotiv Yaroslavl||L, 0-2||5600|
|Sept. 26||Spartak Moscow||SOW, 1-0||7000|
|Oct. 4||Vityaz Chekhov||L, 1-3||5500|
|Oct. 18||Traktor Chelyabinsk||OTW, 2-1||5500|
|Oct. 20||Metallurg Magnitogorsk||SOL, 2-3||5800|
Crowds for Atlant have been fairly consistent, though a top team like Magnitogorsk drawing less than Torpedo is a little curious. The home team hasn't been providing many cheers, and that has to be problematic: the team has only scored five goals and has gone 1-2 in the shootout. If Atlant can't get better results, something more significant might happen. They're definitely a team to watch as far as fan unrest goes.
|Sept. 17||Atlant Moscow Oblast||L, 1-3||3050|
|Sept. 21||HC Yurga||SOL, 1-2||2700|
|Sept. 23||Avangard Omsk||L, 2-4||3895|
|Sept. 25||Barys Astana||L, 1-3||2700|
|Oct. 7||SKA St. Petersburg||SOL, 3-4||4400|
|Oct. 9||Spartak Moscow||L, 2-4||3250|
|Oct. 13||Severstal Cheropovets||L, 0-4||2579|
|Oct. 15||Lokomotiv Yaroslavl||L, 1-5||2900|
|Oct. 20||UHC Dynamo Moscow||L, 1-6||3500|
Chekhov, the bad boys of the KHL, are just plain terrible. There's really no denying it at this point: building your KHL roster around North American pugilists like captain Chris Simon, Josh Gratton, and Darcy Verot is probably not the best path to success. That being said, their modest fan base hasn't abandoned them at this point. The fans on the outskirts of Moscow seem less fickle than the ones in the city.
I guess this raises a key question going forward... if Moscow fans love the city rivalries so much, would less teams be better for the league? Would the other teams become bigger? Or does winning alleviate any such concerns? I'm guessing with a full season of data we'll have a better idea about the habits of the fans. But the early signs aren't too encouraging.
Well, at least in the current arrangement they're guaranteed to send two Moscow area teams to the playoffs no matter what.