HELSINKI — While International Ice Hockey Federation officials patted themselves on the back for a job well done in producing the best-attended world junior championship in European history, questions were raised about next year’s tournament in Montreal.
The Bell Centre will be the home in the preliminary round of the pool that does not include Canada, as well as two quarter-finals, both semifinals and the final next year. The Air Canada Centre will get the Canadian side of the pool and the other two quarter-final games.
Last year, Montrealers stayed away in droves from the pool that did include Canada in the preliminary round.
“We expect them to come stronger this year,” said Frank Gonzalez, chair of the organizing committee of the Helsinki event.
“I’m sure the city of Montreal doesn’t want their name in the bad books.”
Last year, Torontonians supported the teams in the non-Canadian pool before hosting the medal rounds. But some Montrealers were embarrassed at the low turnout for Canadian games.
There were 3,000 empty seats at the Bell Centre for the marquee New Year’s Eve game in 2014 between Canada and the United States. Even less fans showed up for the tournament opener against Slovakia on Boxing Day.
“The problem is it is such a big arena,” said Rene Fasel, president of the IIHF. “We still had 16,000 people in (the Bell Centre). It’s not full. But it’s bigger than this (Hartwell Arena in Finland).
“Pricing once again is an issue.”
Hockey Canada was highly criticized for the prices it charges in Canada.
Packages available now charge between $696 and $1,887 for a 19-game package in Montreal that includes a ticket to the gold-medal game. A 13-game package at the Air Canada Centre, that includes one pre-tournament game involving Canada, four Canada preliminary round games and two quarter-finals, goes for between $642 and $1,714.
Last year, it was said Montrealers only cared about the Canadiens, or had left for Florida over the holiday season.
“I trust it’s a big city,” said Fasel. “I disagree that Montreal people are (only) fans of Les Canadiens. They love hockey. I think the pricing of the tickets were an issue. They have to have a look at the prices and people will come. Not everybody goes to Florida.”
The Toronto-Montreal world juniors drew 336,000 fans in total, third most in the history of the tournament.
Before the puck even dropped for the gold medal game, the world junior hockey championship had been deemed a success for Finland.
“The pricing here in Finland is good and normal so people come and watch,” said Fasel.
More than 200,000 tickets were sold for the 11-day event, making it Europe’s best-attended world juniors, eclipsing the 144,000 that attended the event in Malmo, Sweden, two years ago. It is the eighth best-attended world juniors ever, eclipsing the 2005 event in North Dakota.
“This is a new European record, but we are still far away from North America,” said Fasel. “There is still a lot to do.”
It helped that ticket prices were relatively cheap, about $12-$15 for the cheapest seats in the preliminary rounds.
“The weren’t looking for money (profit),” said Fasel. “They were looking more at attracting people to come to the arena. This is what we have to do to attract people.”