Rene Fasel (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
IIHF president Rene Fasel, seen here at a news conference at the 2014 Winter Olympics, said he was "really surprised" by the sub-par attendance figures for the games in Montreal. He also said with the next two Olympics in Asia, it will be a big challenge to secure NHL participation.
On the heels of experiencing an attendance disaster in Montreal, the International Ice Hockey Federation is open to suggesting to Hockey Canada that the 2017 World Junior Championship be held exclusively in Toronto.
Both IIHF president Rene Fasel and Frank Gonzalez, an IIHF council member and WJC tournament director, acknowledged at a news conference Sunday that the Montreal numbers did not reach expectation and would consider the possibility of holding the entire tournament in Toronto.
“I hope that we don’t have to move out of Montreal,” Gonzalez said. “We would love to go back there. It’s just the numbers there were not what we expected. We have to find the cause and fix that and come back to Montreal and move forward in 2017. If not, we will have to look at our options, of course.”
Attendance at the Toronto games for teams not involving Canada during the preliminary round were very good, but Montreal was nothing short of a debacle. The four games involving Canada in the preliminary round attracted an average of 15,222, which is more than 6,000 under capacity. Even the New Year’s Eve showdown with USA that determined the winner of Group drew only 18,295.
Ticket prices for Canada’s first three games in Montreal ranged from $66 to $261 and for the New Year’s Eve game tickets ranged from $71 to $336. Considering that’s higher than many markets charge for NHL games, it’s clear Hockey Canada overshot its target. Canadiens season ticket holders had to first purchase the entire package in order to get tickets to Canada’s games and single-game tickets only went on the market about a month ago.
Let’s give Fasel some credit here. At first he said he didn’t think ticket prices were the issue in Montreal and said, “maybe the marketing was planned in a different way in Montreal to Toronto.” But when pressed on the matter, it’s clear he realized what a ridiculous statement that was. Having to “market” the WJC tournament in Canada is akin to having to “market” drinking water in the desert.
“This is a question we have to discuss with Hockey Canada,” Fasel said. “Once again, Hockey Canada decides on ticket prices. It’s not our decision.”
Hockey Canada, for its part, has said it will only comment on the attendance numbers after the tournament when they have all been compiled. And despite the high prices, it’s still expected this tournament will generate north of $20 million in profits, half of which goes to Hockey Canada and 35 percent of which goes to the Canadian Hockey League.
When pressed on whether the price point was too high, considering people in Montreal were being asked to pay NHL prices for junior hockey, Fasel said, “I agree with you. I was really surprised. If you did this pricing in Europe, you would have nobody in the arena.”
Fasel spoke on a number of other matters, the most important of which is that he believes Beijing will be awarded the 2022 Winter Olympic Games over Almaty, Kazakhstan. But he also said that with the two next Olympics being played in Asia, “it will be even more difficult,” to secure NHL participation.
He said the IIHF, along with the NHL and NHL Players’ Association, have been more focused on the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Once that is completed, he said they will focus on discussing the Olympics. Even though the World Cup of Hockey is not an-IIHF sanctioned event, it must give its blessing for the federations to participate in it, which could possibly be a bargaining chip for the IIHF.
“I’m confident we will find a way,” Fasel said. “It is my job, actually, to find a compromise. To be very honest, after having five times participating with the best players in the Olympics, this time will be an even bigger challenge to get in there. The players want to go to the Olympics.”
Fasel was also asked about the possibility of an all-star team of non-participating countries and another of young North Americans rounding out the field in the World Cup of Hockey, a scheme that has been floated, but has not been acknowledged yet by anyone involved.
“I like the idea,” Fasel said. “That can be very interesting for the hockey fans. That could be something. We don’t know yet, but personally I like it very much.”