World junior organizers must keep fans in mind

Team Canada fans were out in full force for the world junior championship in Edmonton and Calgary...

Team Canada fans were out in full force for the world junior championship in Edmonton and Calgary in 2012 and Toronto and Montreal are hoping for similar success in 2015 and 2017, when the cities are slated to share hosting duties. (QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:34 AM ET

TORONTO - When the world junior championships are in Toronto, expect intensity, trash talk, people paying the price and perhaps some fisticuffs.

And that’s just in the ticket line.

The demand, cost and fair distribution of ducats for the WJC’s first foray into Toronto and Montreal are sure to be the greatest off-ice challenge facing the coalition of organizers in 2015 and ’17. Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League, the haughty International Ice Hockey Federation and the rich tastes of the Maple Leafs and Canadiens must all be considered.

Everyone is on-side that it should be a smashing success with record profits. But if they’re serious about growing the game, then the average fan can’t be frozen out of the live experience. The high-end ticket is expected to exceed the 2012 record of $100 in Calgary and Edmonton.

“First thing we have to make sure is that everyone can access tickets at a certain price point,” said Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson at Thursday’s official announcement of the tourney at the Air Canada Centre. “There are going to be some high ticket prices. That’s just how it is. But we’ll hopefully have lower prices, too. We haven’t designed this fully yet, but we are doing programs to make sure young kids get in.”

What’s fuelling optimism that the 19,000-seat ACC will be full or close to capacity for the 18 medal round games in 2015? Start with the last time Canada staged a WJC in 2012. Six-game ticket packages were swept up by early birds before many casual fans had a chance. There were 180,000 fans on a waiting list.

And response was strong a few months ago when Hockey Canada merely offered registration for info on 2017 ticket sales long before Toronto and Montreal were even announced as co-hosts.

“I think the most impressive thing about Calgary and Edmonton is that we averaged 14,500 people in the buildings for non-Canadian games,” Nicholson said. “That’s the key. It’s not just about selling out, you want to make sure all the seats are filled.”

With Montreal getting opening round games in 2015 and Toronto taking the pool portion in ’17, it means packages won’t likely be offered this time. But a fair split of tickets is still daunting.

“We have season ticket holders for Toronto and Montreal, then OHL and QMJHL teams,” said Nicholson. “That’s a lot right there, but then we have to make sure Europeans get the chance to buy some and other people from across our country.

“I don’t have those answers today. But as we see demand, we’ll see how we’re going to get it done.”

CHANGING COLOURS

The Leafs know their fan base has a new demographic, but Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment COO Tom Anselmi realized just how much on Thursday. He had a little chat with John Gardner, the long-time president of the Greater Toronto Hockey League.

“He has the biggest minor association in the world,” Anselmi noted. “Yet their participation is declining for several years, despite it being the biggest city in Canada where population grows 10% every year.

“So this world junior will be transformational for the growth of hockey, a kick-start.”

Added Nicholson: “This is perfect for us. Why not bring the world junior right into Toronto and Montreal where there are a lot of immigrants. Hopefully, we can get kids into these NHL buildings, get them excited about the game and have them say ‘hey, this is the way I’m really going to become a Canadian’.”

LES ODD COUPLE

Tim Leiwecke, the CEO of MLSE, shared a few jokes with Geoff Molson, owner of the Canadiens on Thursday about the two old rivals breaking bread over the WJC logo. But there had been a lot of disappointment on behalf of the teams as their solo bids were rejected year after year.

“Two venues, two big cities work,” said CHL president Dave Branch. “It’s a challenge and a strain to put 30-plus games in one centre. So the success of Edmonton and Calgary led to a feeling of ‘OK, where else can we do this’? The natural was Toronto and Montreal.

“The time has come for Toronto. Bob Nicholson and I were sitting in the stands at the 2011 worlds in Buffalo, a sold-out venue. We received info from the Sabres that a great percentage of those fans were from Southern Ontario.”

JUNIOR JOTTINGS

Interest in Team Canada’s fortunes will have an added element in a couple of years. Sixteen-year-old OHL wunderkind Connor McDavid’s draft year is 2015 and he’s expected to have a lead role for the host nation ... Two of the special guests Thursday were ex-Leafs Gary Roberts and Jason Allison, who both played at WJC’s in Canada. Allison, a Toronto native, did not think the city’s indifference to any hockey without a Maple Leaf on it would matter in 2015. “It will probably be the biggest world juniors ever. Junior hockey and AHL don’t always do as well as you think it will here, but the world juniors are different. Everyone who is a hockey fan is glued to their TV during the whole Christmas holiday.” ... TSN and RDS announced Thursday they have reached a new 10-year agreement with Hockey Canada to air the WJC.


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