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Hockey Canada wants fewer empty seats at Bell Centre for 2017 world juniors

May 11, 2016 - 1:09 PM

MONTREAL - The empty seats at the Bell Centre for the 2015 world junior hockey championship were not forgotten when Hockey Canada put tickets on sale for the 2017 event this week.

There is a wider variety of options and some lower prices on ticket packages for the Dec. 26-Jan. 5 tournament in Montreal and Toronto.

Hockey Canada expected a bonanza by staging the popular holiday-period event in Canada's two biggest cities and in two famous NHL rinks — the Bell Centre and the Air Canada Centre — in both 2015 and 2017.

But while there were healthy crowds in Toronto, where the most of the medal round games were played, ticket sales fell short of expectations in Montreal, even for Canada's games.

"Overall, we can't say there was a lack of success," tournament executive director Denis Hainault said Wednesday. "It was a successful event, but we can adjust and do better."

One step was to release the full schedule well ahead of the tournament so fans can check which games they want to attend. Another was to make games more affordable. The cheapest two-game package costs $69.

Plus, they will also use only the roughly 12,000-seat lower bowl at the Bell Centre for group stage games, opening up the full 21,287 seats for the knockout stages, which, barring catastrophe, Canada will be in.

In 2015, Canada played its round-robin games in Montreal, then moved to Toronto starting with the quarter-finals. Canada eventually beat Russia in the final before 19,014 at the ACC.

Fans in Montreal balked at paying top dollar for 13-game packages ranging in price from $431 to $1,191. The package included Canada's preliminary round group games plus two non-Canada quarter-finals. In Toronto, 19-game packages were $626 to $1,746 for the non-Canada group games plus two quarter-finals, two semifinals and the gold and bronze medal games.

The 2017 event has somewhat lower prices and a greater variety of options.

A full 19-game pack including non-Canada group games, two quarters, two semis and the medal games ranges from $750 to $1,625, but there are also two 10-game "half-packs" — one from $518 to $1,112, including the gold medal game and another from $483 to $1,054 including the bronze medal game, a semifinal if Canada is in it and a pre-tournament exhibition game between Canada and Finland.

There are also four- and two-game packages.

The attention has been on filling seats in Montreal and so far only full 13-game packs are available in Toronto.

There were 14,142 fans at Canada's opening game in 2015 against Slovakia. It dipped to 12,733 for Canada-Germany and rose to 18,295 for a Dec. 31 Canada-U.S. game.

The rink was less than a quarter full for some non-Canada matches, and quarter-final games between the U.S and Russia (8,694) and Czech Republic-Slovakia (7,696) weren't much better.

"We have one of the biggest buildings in North American for hockey, but if there's 13,000 people in it, it looks empty," said Hainault. "We've adjusted our targets and our strategy."

He said the key was to have atmosphere in the rink. They hope to get that by using only the lower bowl in the group stage and by selling tickets in packages, which encourages fans to see more teams and gives buyers the first shot at the best seats. Tickets to individual games will go on sale some time in the fall.

Sales were stronger in Toronto, such as the 14,440 who turned out the first day for Sweden-Finland. The Canada-Denmark quarter-final had 18,448 while a semifinal against Slovakia drew 18,002.

Still, it ended as the third-best attended world juniors ever with 366,370 spectators, behind Ottawa in 2009 with 453,000 and Edmonton-Calgary in 2012 at 444,000.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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