TORONTO — The IIHF said Hockey Canada was responsible for the ticket prices that may have led to empty seats at Montreal’s Bell Centre for preliminary games at the world junior championship.
Face-value tickets for games in Montreal started at $71 and ranged to $336 for the New Year’s Eve game between Canada and the United States, which drew 18,295 fans. Just 14,142 fans were in attendance for Canada’s opening game against Slovakia on Boxing Day.
The capacity of Bell Centre is 21,273.
Tickets for Canada’s first three round-robin games (against Slovakia, Germany and Finland) ranged from $66 to $261.
"I was really surprised," IIHF president Rene Fasel said at a news conference Sunday. "If you would do this pricing in Europe, you would have nobody in the arena."
The average NHL ticket price is in the $65 range. Face-value single-game tickets for the Canadiens' next home game Jan. 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning range from $27 in the family zone to $275 in the platinum level.
The Canadiens play just above capacity and are second in the league in attendance with an average of 21,286 fans a game.
Fasel wondered if marketing and the economy in Montreal played a role in the world junior attendance problems. He conceded not personally knowing what the ticket value should be but added, "Hockey Canada decides the prices of the tickets, not us."
In raising concern about crowds at Bell Centre, which are usually sellouts for Canadiens games, Fasel pointed out that this would finish as the third-most-attended world junior championship in history behind Ottawa (2009) and Edmonton and Calgary (2012).
Fasel said he expects the 2015 tournament post a total attendance between 365,000 and 385,000. There were 453,000 in Ottawa and 444,000 in Edmonton and Calgary.
"So it's not too bad, really," Fasel said. "It's really a nice problem to discuss."
Hockey Canada has said it will not comment on this matter until after the tournament, which wraps up Monday with the bronze- and gold-medal games at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Canada played Slovakia on Sunday night in the semifinals.
The 2015 world junior championship featured Canada playing its round-robin games in Montreal and knockout rounds in Toronto.
There were 18,448 people in Air Canada Centre Friday night when Canada faced Denmark in the quarter-finals.
Packages for all 19 games in Toronto ranged from $626 to $1,746, and although attendance was not high for non-Canada preliminary games, the expectation was for Canada's games to draw well. Fasel said the average attendance in Toronto would be around 14,000 without Canada for the early games and between 9,720 and 15,000 for Montreal.
The packages for 13 games in Montreal ranged from $431 to $1,191.
"Maybe we had really high expectations in Montreal," Fasel said. "I think we will find a solution with Hockey Canada and the IIHF to get a great event in 2017."
The 2017 tournament is scheduled to have Canada's round-robin games in Toronto and the knockout rounds in Montreal. Asked about moving some games to Quebec City or staging all games in Toronto, Fasel did not rule anything out.
"Everything will be evaluated in the next few months," Fasel said.
IIHF council member Frank Gonzalez, the tournament chairman, said the organizations would have to discuss with partners and sponsors before making any decisions about altering the plan for 2017.
"I'm hoping that we don't have to move out of Montreal," Gonzalez said. "I think it's a great city for hockey as Rene has mentioned and we would love to go back there. It's just that the numbers this time did not accompany what we thought or what we expected would be the same as in Toronto.
"We have to find what was the cost and maybe fix that and then come back to Montreal and see if we can fix it and move forward in Montreal in 2017. If not we will have to look at other options, of course."