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3.17.2014

Seattle earns home ice against Everett (sorta)

Seattle salvaged their weekend with a convincing win in Kennewick yesterday evening and coupled with the Silvertips shootout loss in Portland earned themselves the tiebreaker and home ice advantage over Everett in the first round of the playoffs.

Then... they promptly punted a small part of that advantage right back to their I-5 rivals.

The news actually broke on Friday when Everett released their possible playoff schedules (that page has since disappeared) showing that the series would buck the traditional 2-2-1-1-1 playoff format in favor of an alternating venue format (1-1-1-1-1-1-1).

Seattle will host Game 1 on Saturday in Kent at 7:05. The series then heads to Everett for Game 2 Sunday night and returns to Kent for Game 3 on Tuesday night. This, specifically, so that Seattle can host their popular "2 for Tuesday" promotion.

Why do I have a problem with this? Well let's break it down.

The front office isn't going to like this and they probably won't be happy with me. I may not have another request granted because of this article but I think this needs to be said and I think it is extremely fair. I'm also going to try to be respectful in my criticism. The Tbirds weren't forced into this decision (that I know of). They made this decision purposely and they have to live with the reaction. They had to know that some fans would feel this way.

The way I see it, there are two parts to this issue. The first is determining whether format really gives you an advantage or not and the second has to do with the philosophy and reasoning behind 2 for Tuesday.

(Note: This is going to get thick... so if you can't take it... I will summarize at the end of the whole thing, you can skip there now)


Issue 1: Does format give you an advantage?

This is a complicated issue, so bear with me as I try to break this down for you.  What we are dealing with here is Probability vs. Historical Outcomes. If anyone is a gambler they would know that this issue is somewhat related to the Roulette wheel.  If a Black number hits 57 times in a row you are still just as likely to land on Black on the 58th outcome.  That is because the probability of hitting Black, Red (or Green) is the same on each spin no matter what. There is no human interaction that affects the end result of the Roulette wheel (unless you can find a dealer to buy off... that's a different blog post).

To a certain extent, this is true with hockey and playoff outcomes as well.  Using our good buddies at Massey Ratings we know Seattle has a 50.4% chance of beating Everett at home while Seattle has a 43.1% chance of winning at Everett.  These percentages aren't going to change depending on the location of Game 2. Seattle has roughly a 47.27% chance of winning the series if we were running paper simulations of the 7 games. This would be true even if Seattle were to play the first 4 games at home and the last 3 in Everett or the first 3 in Everett and the last 4 at home. Probability doesn't care what order you play the games.

The problem with that theory though is that hockey (nor any sport) isn't played out in a computer simulation. Which is precisely why stats are useful and predictive but ultimately can only be used as a tool and not considered the end-all be-all of analysis.  No, hockey is played out on the ice with real humans, real human emotions and real human interactions and those interactions can be predicted to a certain extent using quality data but no outcome can be truly mapped out with 100% certainty (if it could... I'd be rich).

This is where Historical Outcomes have to be considered. How does a team react to situations? How do players react to situations? For that we turn to Who Wins. Who Wins has a record of every 7 game series in this history of the four major sports (but no it doesn't include WHL data... which is my only flaw here).

Now... we have to make some assumptions in order to map this out.  The idea behind home ice advantage is that a team has a better chance of winning at home than they do on the road and this is true for the Seattle Thunderbirds. This isn't an assumption, this is just mathematically correct. Seattle had a winning percentage of .694 at home and only .528 on the road.  Let us assume then that your hope as a team is that in your worst possible scenario you win all your home games and lose all your road games (I realize this isn't actually worst case scenario). A team has to assume they are going to win a series because well... they aren't going to assume they are going to lose a series.

So let's assume that under the traditional format, Seattle plays the first two games at home and the result is a pair of Seattle wins. In the History of the National Hockey League a team winning their first two games won the series 279 times out of 322 times (86.6%) regardless of where the games were played.  A team winning the first two games of a series at home went on to win the series 218 times out of 243 times (89.7%). NHL history would suggest that if you win the first two games at home... you win the series almost 90% of the time.  Of course... I have to point out that Seattle did win the first two games of the series last year in Kelowna and even won Game 3 at home before losing 4 straight to lose the series, which is why all of this is just an exercise in probability and math and doesn't actually decide games.

But, Seattle doesn't get to play Game 2 at home, they have to play in Everett on Sunday where their chances of winning are only 43.1%. If we assume Seattle wins their first two home games but loses their first road game (in this case Game 2) they will still lead the series 2-1 before heading back to Everett for Game 4. This is pretty good right? Yes, but not as good as being up 2-0 (obviously). Being up 2 games to 1 a team now wins the series only 291 times in 419 chances (69.5%) and being up 2-1 where you played your first game at home (which they still do) you win the series 188 times in 249 tries (75.5%).

What does this all mean?

What it means to me is that if you assume Seattle wins their first two home games they just lowered their chances of winning the series (again only according to historical NHL data and NOT probability) from 89.7% to 75.5%. In my opinion, we just punted a 14.2% chance of winning the series.

Now... Issue 2: The "Why".

Why did the team do this?  Pure and simple... attendance (and money). With the building occupied Sunday, Seattle would have had to stage Games 1 and 2 on Friday and Saturday. Saturday is a good night for the team as they average 4,584 in attendance. This represents about 157 people above their average attendance.

Tuesday night averages 4,993 which is a whopping 566 people above their average while Friday nights only draw 3,959 (468 people below average).

A Tuesday night game represents an increase of 1034 people over a possible Friday night playoff game. Couple that with the relatively short turn around time to sell tickets (something every team has to deal with) and games being played back to back and it becomes pretty clear what the motive is here. The team clearly believes (knows) that more people will pack the building on Tuesday night with their 2 for Tuesday promotion.

Perhaps Seattle is avoiding the Friday game knowing that more Everett fans are likely to "invade" on a Friday as opposed to a Tuesday? I'm not sure I buy that, but it's possible.

Now... I'm all for big crowds but shouldn't the focus be on WINNING GAMES and not how many people are going to attend those games???

But Tyler... won't the players play better in front of a packed crowd vs. a crowd of 1000 people less?

I'm so glad you asked that question.

March 14th (this weekend) - Attendance 6,150 to play Portland. Result - Loss
March 8th - Attendance 6,150 to play Everett. Result - Loss
January 25th - Attendance 6,149 to play Everett. Result - Win in OT
December 31st - Attdendance 6,149 to play Kamloops. Result - Loss (7-1 to a non-playoff team I might add)

In the top 10 most attended games of the season, Seattle's record is: 1 regulation win, 2 wins in OT, 1 win in SO, 1 OT Loss, 1 SO Loss and 4 Losses.  4-4-1-1.

Oh... and what is Seattle's record in their 10 least attended games?? Only 8-1-0-1. Including, arguably, their most impressive win of the season, a 4-1 controlling win over the Kelowna Rockets.

Tell me again how attendance matters to the players? Better yet, don't.

I'm not privy to team finances, nor do I want or need to be to know that bigger attendance helps the bottom line. Even if some or most of the tickets are being sold at half price. I've already killed you guys with math in this blog post so I'll just tell you that I crunched the numbers and  by my calculation the team only needs you to spend $6.44 in concessions to break even... even after selling tickets at half price. Based on the concourse during intermissions and despite $2 beer and hot dog prices, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that they are probably making money on the extra people in the building.  It might not be a lot... but put simply - they aren't losing money on the 2 for Tuesday promotion.

As a loyal fan, I'm insulted. I bought the playoff package this year again despite not knowing whether I'd be able to attend games or even attend games in entirety based on my two infants (most games they only make it to about the 2nd intermission if you ever wonder why my tweets seem to decline in the 3rd period) and I'm rewarded for my loyalty (and yours) by the team making decisions that seem to be pretty clearly based on attendance and money instead of wins and banners.

Clearly, games are not won and lost on paper. Seattle may win the first 4 games of the series and this annoyance is moot. They may also lose the first 4 games and it would also be moot. Why take the risk though? Even if your advantage is far less than the 14.2% stated above, why risk it? Why risk it for the sake of attendance and money? It might mean nothing but it also might mean something and I think it creates a perception that the team cares more about the bottom line than wins. And if there is even a shred of truth to that... that bothers me.

Enjoy your $2 beers.

Summary - Historical Outcomes (but not probability) would suggest that Seattle may have punted as much as a 14.2% advantage in the series and it appears to me that this was done solely to improve the attendance and finances of the first two games of the series. Now go back and read the post to understand why.

22 comments :

Erica said...

Agree with everything you wrote, Tyler. I was really looking forward to home ice to have WEEKEND games at home. I love going to the games, but I'm not gonna lie, the mid-week games are killer when you work M-F, have to rush home to get over to the game before the parking lot is full (or spend an extra 10 minutes walking from the overflow parking), have a mediocre dinner and deal with long lines at the concession stands - and then get to deal with all the drunks taking advantage of 2-for-Tuesday.

I have no doubt that the team is more interested in the bottom line that winning games.

Mr Tell13 said...

Great post Tyler. And I do agree to some point, it does give the perception that the team cares about the bottom line more than winning games, or shall I saw they are willing to give up the 14% edge for more money.

Couple of points:
- Your analysis is based on NHL numbers, and I understand that it is because they are pretty much the only numbers available for this type of analysis. It does create a few analysis problems:
The NHL does not have a one game alternating host format for playoffs. And the case where that would be possible are limited the the NewYork teams.
The OHL had that format for all series betweeen teams under 400km of distance (until 2012 I believe)
It wouldbe interesting to see the analysis of these numbers.
- With Showare still losing money, is it possible that "external" pressure is forcing their hands to make sure to maximize attendance?

Dean said...

Good summary, Tyler and I totally agree with you. I seen playoff formats change in hockey due to building availability but this is a first for me.

Go T-birds. I need a second round playoff trip with his youngest son!

Thunnex said...

Yes, I would agree that the data is somewhat flawed although I think we have enough results to say that the results wouldn't be dramatically different with the WHL/CHL.

They might be a little different... but I don't think you would see teams suddenly only winning games 50% of the time after leading 2-0, for example.

I have no inside knowledge of external pressures having an impact on the team to make slightly more money but I suppose that is possible.

Anonymous said...

This was long and made my head hurt...but I liked it! :)

Anonymous said...

Tyler,

Thanks for the analysis, I completely agree. I would not have purchased a playoff package if I would have thought we would not be hosting the first games at home on a weekend. Instead I am stuck going to a weekday game anyways. The Everett fans are going to make attendance decent in any case so giving up the advantage of hosting the first two games does not seem worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

sWhat's this?! The guy who 'couldn't find a trade partner' for Pickard or Hickey at the deadline also can't figure out how to correctly schedule a Friday/Saturday home schedule? Same guy who traded away Forsberg in favor of a lesser player who happens to be popular with the billets and boosters? Unbelievable. This team is driven by many political factors, but putting the best players on the right ice at the right time continues to be hard work for Mr. Ru$$$.

Marc S said...

Great post Tyler! I think there is also a psychological side to the argument when you are up 2-0. I think that puts a ton of pressure on the team that is down in the series to win the next two games. I would think that the percentage the team up 2-0 wins a series might be higher than the NHL just because of the maturity level.

This decision makes me feel like the people who come to maybe 8 games during the year are more important to the front office than the people who come to 30+ games a year. Quite frankly at least in my section the behavior has been much better this year, if this keeps up I might have to stop calling it two for drunken Tuesday, but my enjoyment of the game will still be diminished from the people constantly getting up in the middle of play because they need another beer or never learned how to hold their bladder.

I have a question about your analysis of breaking even. That is breaking even on that night and not breaking even compared to what a Friday would have done? I have a hard time wrapping my head around half price tickets, most concessions at less than half price and bringing in more than you do on a Friday night with regular ticket prices and regular priced concessions. That mortgage company must be tossing in a pretty penny to help make it worthwhile.

Jon said...

I think that the 2nd game on the road only comes into play if you lose the first game. I would think if you lost the 1st, you would put a lot of pressure on yourself to go on the road and turn game 2 into an almost must win.

Jon said...

The one other thing I wanted to add to this, is an argument for the 2 for Tuesday.

Can anyone argue that last years Game 3 against Kelowna, which was a 2 for Tuesday, was electric, amazing, and exciting. I am sure there were a lot of drunks there, but they made a ton of noise.

If you recall all the players said it was huge and provided a boost to them. I talked to Tyler Alos at training camp this year about how loud it was, and he told me that up in the press area, they had to shout to talk to the people next to them.

I have never heard it louder then when Wardly scored the game winner in OT.

So, we may all think it was about money, but you can't deny that the atmosphere was great.

Thunnex said...

Re: Jon... wouldn't that mean you'd love to have that 2nd game at home to avoid getting into an 0-2 hole?

Re: Marc. Ballpark math I guessed at the average ticket price and added 1034 more tickets for the Tuesday game. It's extremely crude and approximate and didn't account for sponsorship dollars AT ALL! So even if my estimates were aggressive (which I don't think they were) you'd probably be close to break even with any sponsorship dollars and the rest is gravy.

Certainly re-enforces my point that they definitely aren't losing money on the promotion.

Jon said...

Ok, one other thought on the difference between a 2 for Tuesday and the Friday.

If they had a game this Friday, they would have had 4 days to market it, and then game day to hope a large walk up crowd. Having the game on the Tuesday gives them 7 days to market, including a weekend, and one home game. So I would argue that expecting 4000 for the Friday game might be a little overestimating.

Jon said...

Re: Tyler

I definitely want the game 2 at home. If you win game one, you have a chance to put a really big strangle hold. Lose game one, and you have the home game to get even.

Of course, I have long argued that if you could somehow have home ice, and have games 1 and 2 on the road, it would be better. Something like a 2-3-1-1. Steal one of the first two games in their building, then have 3 more at home to wrap it up. Lose both, and technically, you were suppose to lose them, so other then emotion that you did lose twice, you should be in the same boat.

Thunnex said...

Absolutely true but two things...

1) That absolutely proves my point that this decision was made for attendance and financial reasons.

2) Every team in the league has the same problem and Seattle could have said weeks ago that IF they hosted the first round that games would have been on Friday and Saturday.

Anonymous said...

I understand professional sports are different from the usual company or business. We're a little more attached to our teams then, say, Wal-Mart or even our favorite neighborhood restaurant. But bottom line is they are all in it to make money. And this (major junior hockey), not being the NHL, and more of a "niche" sport in a major market competing with the likes of the Seahawks and Mariners for the sports fans dollars, I can't begrudge them for getting "creative" in how they sell their product. Yes, I'd prefer the two weekend home games that traditionally have gone to the team with home ice advantage, but they have the right, just as Wal-Mart does, to maximize their bottom line. I've been told the T-birds just don't make a little extra profit with the 2-for-Tuesday promotion, but they make a very sizeable profit on those dates. As for Seattle keeping Forsberg over Elliot as one poster complained about, how'd that work out for Moose Jaw? Farwell actually made a great trade getting Henry from Lethbridge. He's much better then Forsberg and helped develop Bear. As an aside, Seattle won more road playoff games then home playoff games last season.

Anonymous said...

Tyler, didn't I read or hear that if Seattle was hosting Spokane in Round 1 that the series would have started with two home games, Friday and Saturday? Apparently playing Everett presented them with this unique opportunity.

Thunnex said...

I'm not sure. I hadn't heard that specifically but you could be right.

Mr Tell13 said...

Just another thought on this, is it possible that Seattle and Everett decided to "share" the week-end games and the added attendance?

I am thinking that if attendance are lower on the weekdays for the tbirds, the same pattern must be true for the tips. They split the first 2 games, Seattle knows that the Tuesday game is a good draw anyway because of the promo.

Mr Tell13 said...

My guess is that Spoke is to far. If its the same rule as the OHL, their limit was 400km (Kent - Spokane is 261 miles ....so about 440km)

Marc S said...

Spokane is in the position where they had to start their series on the road, whether they had home ice or not. I would guess you have a certain number of days to get the games in so that would have probably forced Seattle to play game 1 and 2 on Friday and Saturday since Sunday was booked.

I think if they don't win this series they are going to have some mighty unhappy fans. Particularly if they look great in game 1 and then game 2 puts them back to playing hockey like they have for most of this month.

Either way they need to recapture the success they had against Everett until those last three games.

Anonymous said...

If the team makes that much more on Two-For -Tuesday, then why don't they run that promotion for Friday night games?

Anonymous said...

Ironically enough, if it weren't for this wonky schedule, I wouldn't be going to any of the EVT games (assuming they'd be Tues/Wed) and as it stands, I'm going to both of them! So, good job Tbirds, getting butts in seats in EVT! :)

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