May 8, 2012
Ball hockey a bigger draw than worlds
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
HELSINKI - Alexandre Burrows was talking about the last time he wore the red maple leaf on his chest representing Canada internationally.
"The crest was almost the same, except it had a ball on it," he said holding out the stylized Hockey Canada logo on the front of his bright yellow don't-hit-me-I'm-coming-back-from-a-concussion jersey as he returned to the ice Tuesday.
It was the 2003 world ball hockey championships in Switzerland, he pointed out.
Asked to describe the difference between the world ball hockey championship and the world ice hockey championship, Burrows deadpanned what may be the line of the tournament.
"There were more fans in the stands."
At ball hockey. In Switzerland.
"In Switzerland, at ball hockey, it was packed. There were a lot of fans."
Burrows sat in the stands with the crowd of only 2,314 Monday watching Canada's 7-2 win over France. And his line of the tournament is fast becoming the story of the tournament.
When Canada plays Switzerland here Wednesday, in world championship ice hockey, it's likely there will be fewer fans here for the game that counts than packed the buildings in Fribourg and Kloten for two pre-tournament games between the two countries. And the environment in the Swiss rinks, particularly in Fribourg, was wonderful.
Here the environment is a heavy blast of public address and dialed up music to cover up the lack of energy. And there's no hiding the sea of empty seats other than the Skoda cars in the stands in the corners.
The first world hockey championships being shared by two nations has had some exceptionally small crowds as fans in Stockholm and Helsinki have refused to pay NHL prices to watch games involving the so called "minnows" even if there's a line-up full of NHL players on the other side of the ice -- in Canada's case, a lineup featuring players who made $74,636,962 this past season.
The 130 Euro prices are about 100 Euros more than what it costs for the same seat for a Elitserien (Swedish Elite League) or a SM-liiga game here in Finland. The average Joe can't afford to come and the television coverage on Canal+ and MTV3 is so massive it is almost 24-7.
The average crowd to watch Italy in Stockholm so far has been 1,955. When you consider Edmonton and Calgary just finished filling two NHL rinks for every game for the world juniors, regardless of the nations involved, offers quite the contrast.
Despite having their most star-studded team at the world championship for a non-lockout year, Canada has averaged only 5,552 for their three games so far against Slovakia, United States and France.
Imagine. Canada. The ninth best draw of the tournament.
They'll pay it to go watch defending world champion Finland here. The Finns have averaged 12,604 in the 13,349-seat Hartwall Arena including the ones you can't see watching the games from behind the darkened windows from a seat in the sauna.
But they'll wait and watch the rest of the counties involved when they play Finland.
Sweden, however, has only averaged 8,655 in the 13,850-seat Globen Arena. The Russians rank as the 12th best draw at 4,828. At least that's closer to a KHL attendance figure.
The tournament average going into games Tuesday was 6,202.
"The people in charge of pricing completely missed the market," said Team Canada G.M. Kevin Lowe.
"I don't believe it affects the player's performance at all.
"Possibly in a lesser opponent situation it might affect them a little. But I really don't think it would change their mindset for preparedness between a lesser hockey nation and the countries we need to beat.
"I haven't heard our players even speak about it."
On one hand you have hockey banners and murals all over town, a very visible celebration of the 200th anniversary of Helsinki becoming the capital of Finland as you walk around town. And the event is massive in the media as players being involved in a minor bar incident becoming big news would suggest.
And then you go to the rink and it's almost empty in the only country other than Canada where hockey is the No. 1 sport. It just seems such a contrast and such a contradiction.
"The Finns won the gold last year and they are a favourite again this year. Clearly they have the hockey on the ice figured out but have failed miserably in identifying something just as important, and that's the fans," said Lowe.