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Hockey fans being priced-out of Memorial Cup

Garrett Wilson an the Owen Sound Attack won the OHL championship Sunday. (Photo by OHL Images)

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Garrett Wilson an the Owen Sound Attack won the OHL championship Sunday. (Photo by OHL Images)

From this corner, there’s a perfectly simple reason why the Memorial Cup has not yet sold out and it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact Canada’s largest city has become a black hole when it comes to major junior hockey.

It’s true that even from the time the dangerous combination of Don Cherry’s ego and incompetence almost killed junior hockey in Mississauga, the Ontario League has failed to capture the imagination of hockey fans in the Toronto area. But that’s not why, five days before it starts, the Memorial Cup is still looking for bums to put into the seats.

We’ll take OHL commissioner David Branch’s word for it when he says ticket sales have been brisk. But just hours after the Owen Sound Attack shocked the St. Mike’s Mississauga Majors in Game 7 of the OHL final, anyone with a fat wallet could purchase four tickets together online for any of the games with the exception of the Saturday, May 21 game between the Attack and the Kootenay Ice and the championship final.

Which brings us to the real reason why the marquee event in junior hockey hasn’t sold out. Somewhere along the line, the people who organized this year’s Memorial Cup forgot it’s junior hockey they’re selling. History tells us that of the approximately 80 players who will be playing for the four teams in the tournament, somewhere between a dozen and 15 of them will enter our consciousness later as full-time NHL players. But that hasn’t stopped the OHL and the local organizers from trying to grab all the cash they can from people they most certainly have taken for suckers.

Simply put, tickets to the Memorial Cup are just too damned expensive for the product on display. At the same time the Attack were defeating the Majors in Game 7 Sunday afternoon, my two sons and I were across town watching the Toronto Rock beat the Washington Stealth for the National Lacrosse League championship (yes, it was a case of horrendous planning). Our three tickets for that game cost a total of $157.95 all-in with service charges and taxes, which came to an average of $52.65 per ticket. For that price, we were five rows up from the floor; close enough to see the grimace on Rock captain Colin Doyle’s face as it was smashed into the glass.

By contrast, purchasing three online tickets in the cheap seats at the Hershey Centre to see Kootenay play the Saint John Sea Dogs next week would set you back a total of $185.25, or $61.75 per ticket, including taxes and surcharges. Any game involving either the Attack or the Majors would cost $215.25 or $71.75 per ticket and the round-robin game involving the Attack and the Majors would cost you $245.25 or $81.75 per ticket. Without knowing which two teams are in the semifinal, you’d have to pay $314.25 for three tickets or $104.75 per ticket. (Note: There is a $4.75 convenience fee you don’t have to pay if you buy them at the box office instead of online.)

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This is for junior, we repeat, junior hockey.

A single tournament package will set you back just $592, which comes out to $74 per game or $65.78 if a tiebreaker game is necessary. There is also a special offer for any two round-robin games – or one round-robin game and the semifinal – plus the championship game for $225, which comes to $75 a ticket.

Am I the only one who thinks these prices are unequivocally insane?

There are two things that offend me most about this kind of gouging when it comes to the Memorial Cup.

The first is the Canadian League likes to bill itself as the wholesome family alternative to the NHL and its out-of-reach prices. The CHL sells itself as the vehicle to watch tomorrow’s stars today, while they’re still pure and innocent for a fraction of the cost. Sorry, but having to shell out somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 just to get my two sons and myself into the door isn’t exactly my idea of reasonably priced entertainment.

Second, I might be more willing to pay a premium to watch these kids play if some of the cut was actually going to the players. The fact remains that non-superstar junior hockey players are paid pitiful, embarrassing, poverty wages. As we said before, an infinitesimal number of these players will end up making a decent living from hockey. The ones who sign multi-million dollar contracts are the anomaly and a great number of kids who play this game at the major junior level – particularly if they don’t take advantage of the money available for post-secondary education – leave the junior ranks with no professional hockey career and almost nothing to show for their efforts.

That’s a shame, almost as shameful as the prices they’re charging to watch this year’s Memorial Cup.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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