MONTREAL — The empty seats speak volumes.
Montrealers — and to lesser extent, Torontonians — are staying away from the world junior hockey championship.
Ticket sales in Montreal have been shockingly low for a city that prides itself on its passion for hockey. More than 7,000 seats were not sold for Canada’s first game against Slovakia on Boxing Day.
Ticket prices, of course, have something to do with it. Plenty of seats remain available for what should be the premium game of the opening round, an afternoon tilt between Canada and the United States on New Year’s Eve. But the cheapest the Star could find was for $109. (Tickets for games not including Canada were available from as low as $10.) Officials from Hockey Canada were approached but declined to comment on attendance figures.
The empty seats and pricing got Twitter’s attention.
“That’s Stanley Cup third round pricing,” tweeted Geoff Kalil. “I’m a diehard hockey/Canada fan. Live in Montreal, work as a banker. No way I’m spending that much for tickets.”
Hockey Canada’s initial strategy was to sell packages — to get Canadian games you had to buy games for Germany and Slovakia — as it moved the tournament to Canada’s two largest markets. It was only in the last month that idea was dropped for single-game seats.
Both Toronto and Montreal consider themselves the centres for hockey, but it would appear Toronto is really just a Leaf town, while Montreal is a Habs town. Junior hockey historically has not sold well in either city.
Attendance numbers are down from the last time the tournament was held in Canada, when Edmonton and Calgary shared the event.
Through the first six games (three in each city and only one game featuring Canada), Toronto and Montreal have combined to bring 67,662 fans — an average of 11,277 — to the Air Canada Centre and Bell Centre. Edmonton and Calgary brought 82,399, an average of 13,733.
Montreal — with Canada as a selling point — has had lower attendance (28,148) than Toronto (39,507).
Montreal hit a low of 6,007 for Saturday afternoon’s Slovakia and Finland game.
Toronto’s average attendance (13,169) was in line with that of Calgary’s (13,733) and Edmonton’s (13,510).
The two cities will co-host the event again in two years time, when Toronto will host Canada through the preliminary round and Montreal will host the knock out games and medal round.