IIHF calls for lower tickets prices for 2017 WJC

Fans sit among empty seats as they wait for the start of a world junior game in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

HELSINKI — International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel thinks ticket prices should be lower for the 2017 world junior hockey championships in Montreal.

Fasel addressed media on Tuesday, the final day of the 2016 world juniors in Helsinki, Finland, and suggested that Hockey Canada should consider lowering its prices among other solutions to disappointing ticket sales.

"It’s a big city," said Fasel. "I disagree that maybe Montreal people are only there for les Canadiens. They love the game. I think the pricing of the tickets was an issue in Montreal. I think that they have to have a look on the prices and people will come. Not all of Montreal is in Florida."

Fasel, from Switzerland, was speaking on a panel with Finnish hockey federation president Kalervo Kummola and Spain’s Frank Gonzalez, who served as the organizing committee’s chair for the 2016 event. Ticket sales were disappointing in Montreal for the 2015 world juniors that the city co-hosted with Toronto.

That year Montreal hosted preliminary round games while Toronto handled preliminary and playoff rounds. The two cities will co-host the 2017 event again, with Montreal hosting the medal round and both cities taking on the preliminary round.

"Hockey Canada released its 2017 World Junior Championship ticket packages in early December. While we believe that the 2015 WJC was, in large part, a success, there is always room for improvement," said Hockey Canada chief operating officer Scott Smith in a statement to The Canadian Press. "To better understand those opportunities, we commissioned consumer research and spoke with different stakeholders including the Montreal Canadiens.

"One of the areas we did revise for 2017 is the ticket pricing in Montreal, where on a per-game cost, you can see the world's best in men's under-20 hockey for as little as $35, with platinum seats going for $100 per game. This represents on average a 30 per cent decrease in pricing."

As Gonzalez spoke about how he believes that snowbirds -- Canadians heading to the southern United States in the winter months -- shouldn't effect ticket sales in Montreal, Fasel and Kummola interrupted with another suggestion.

"Maybe there should be more French-speaking players on the Canadian team," said Kummola to Fasel within range of the microphones.

Fasel then turned to Gonzalez, saying that the Finnish hockey president had a good point. Kummola then laughed and repeated: "Maybe there should be more French-speaking players on the Canadian team."

Gonzalez, who was born in Barcelona but raised in Toronto before returning to Spain replied: "They have a lot. They have quite a few."

Canada had four French Canadians on its roster this year: forwards Julien Gauthier and Anthony Beauvillier, defenceman Thomas Chabot and goaltender Sameul Montembeault, who was a late addition to the team after Mackenzie Blackwood's suspension made a third goalie necessary. Montembeault did not play in any of Canada's games.

"In regards to our player selection, our sole focus is on putting together the best team possible," said Smith's statement for Hockey Canada. "Geography and language don't factor into our decisions -- if they did, we would be doing a disservice to the players, to our organization, and to our country."

Fasel also suggested that perceptions of attendance at the 2015 event may have been skewed by the size of Montreal's Bell Centre.

"The problem is also that if you have such a big arena, we still had 15-16,000 people, but in a 22,000-seat arena it looks not full," said Fasel. "It's still big, bigger than Hartwell Arena (where the medal round of the 2016 event was held.)

"Pricing, once again, is an issue. Good work was done by (Kummola) and his team here in Finland. The pricing is good. Normal, so people come and watch. This is important."

Smith also responded to this comment on behalf of Hockey Canada.

"These are large venues, but they are also the best available in these two host cities, and we want to deliver a best-in-class experience for teams and fans alike," said Smith. "I believe it's also worth noting that -- as with all of the events Hockey Canada hosts throughout the season -- all proceeds go back into hockey development across the country, from grassroots to the elite levels."

Fasel also said on Tuesday afternoon that Canadian fans' disappointment in their team's quarter-final exit is an issue of perception.

"The Canadian team is so successful with the women, with the men, with the seniors, juniors, under-18, you win all the time. Mostly all the time," said Fasel. "And if sometimes you don't make the semifinal it's like it's a catastrophe. Me as a former Swiss president I'm happy when we can stay in the A pool.

"It's a good signal for Canada that they have to work hard to win a championship. You have to earn the success."