WJC Attendance: A Tale of Two Cities

The 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship comes to a close Monday night and already there seems to be some uncertainty about the International Ice Hockey Federation’s 2017 edition of the tournament. Like this year, in 2017 the Boxing Day classic is set to return to co-hosts Montreal and Toronto, but the success of the tournament in each of these cities this year has organizers worried.

Following a conference call Sunday, IIHF president Rene Fasel and World Junior tournament director and General Secretary, Frank Gonzalez, reportedly suggested to Hockey Canada that they consider making Toronto the sole host for the 2017 games. The request comes after numbers through the year’s tournament have shown that attendance in Montreal has been much worse than expected.

Attendance Figures

Attendance numbers for the 2015 World Juniors have been much lower in Montreal than in Toronto. (cr: alexcaban@Wikimedia)
Attendance numbers for the 2015 World Juniors have been much lower in Montreal than in Toronto. (cr: alexcaban@Wikimedia)

Coming into Monday, Canada had the highest attendance of any country, but the five countries behind the host nation were, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. Yes, the entire Group B, all of whom played their preliminary games in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre, saw higher numbers than the rest of Group A, who played their preliminary games in Montreal. In fact heading into New Year’s Eve games of the tournament, the country who had averaged the worst attendance was the USA, who at the time were bringing in less than 6,000 people to watch them play, almost ¼ of the Bell Centre’s capacity.

Canada comes into Monday having had an average of 16,223 spectators at each of their games. Meanwhile the tournament’s average attendance was 11, 918, though it is important to consider that the gold-medal game between Canada and Russia and even the bronze-medal game between Sweden and Slovakia are likely to drive that number up a bit more.

What has been the most disappointing part, or most surprising is the fact that attendance for Canadian games in Montreal haven’t been that great, let alone games involving other nations. In fact the New Year’s Eve showdown between Canada and their arch-rivals, the Americans, drew in just over 18,300 fans, leaving roughly 3,000 seats vacant. In fact, over their four preliminary games in the city, the Bell Centre saw an average of 6,000 empty seats.


So Why Aren’t People Showing Up?

Some suggest the reason for the poor attendance was because of the ticket prices for the games in Montreal, especially those featuring Canada. Tickets ranged from $71 to nearly $350 a ticket for the game against the Americans. And if Hockey Canada is upset about the 3,000 vacant seats for that game, then they only have themselves to blame. Hockey Canada was responsible for setting the ticket prices and marketing the games, so poor attendance may very well be their own fault.

Tom Renney Coach Oilers
Hockey Canada president Tom Renney remains confident looking ahead to the 2017 tournament.(Vincent Muzik/Icon SMI)

It is also interesting to note that the Montreal Canadiens have the second highest attendance rates in the NHL, so if you’re trying to blame residents of the city for not caring about hockey, I don’t know who would, think again. Other reports suggest that Habs season ticket holders had to purchase tickets to the entire tournament originally, even if they only had plans to take in Canada’s matches. On top of that , single-game tickets didn’t become available until nearly a month before the tournament.

A Bright Side to 2017

The Air Canada Centre has a capacity of 19,800, before standing room, so what also hurts is knowing that Montreal had the opportunity to bring in the bigger crowds. In 2017 the tournament is expected to swap the cities in which each group plays their preliminary games and ultimately which city hosts the medal round. That would mean that on one hand Canada would play their first four games in Toronto, where attendance has been stronger, while Montreal would host the more important matches, which one would hope would attract more spectators.

Hockey Canada president Tom Renney has made it clear that he stands committed to the format of 2017’s tournament. So, if any changes are going to be made regarding the host cities they don’t look to be decisions that will be made any time soon. But it does look as though Hockey Canada and the IIHF will be looking closely to make sure that when the tournament returns to the two hockey-hot beds, they can have as many screaming fans in the stands as possible.