Sunday, January 4, 2015

I Solved The 2017 WJC Dilemma

So, Montreal is getting a bad rap because of poor attendance during World Juniors games. Obviously this isn't something that should happen, in a country that lives and breathes hockey and a city that can sell out an entire NHL season in an hour. But it did, and we all know why. Here's how to fix it for 2017 instead of just yanking the games from Montreal entirely:

Make tickets more accessible. I know that opening a ticket lottery right after the previous year's WJC was probably the best way to generate and maintain interest - but with so many empty seats, was it such a great idea to make fans feel special for winning a chance to commit to a 13-game ticket package? Even passionate hockey fans might not be able to make that kind of financial or time commitment. (As an aspiring homeowner, the cost of a 13-game package is what I call "house money." For the price of two ticket packages, I could probably plan a trip to a WJC in another country.) Hockey Canada gave no signs that fans could buy less than 13 games' worth of tickets until less than two months before the tournament. It seemed to be all or nothing, and that's a pretty big ultimatum to make.
Ticket prices were pretty ridiculous, too. Why else would the cheap seats at the Bell Centre be so much fuller than the lower bowl? Canadiens fans are blinded by their love for the team - that's part of what drives the demand for, and high price of, Habs tickets. No one likes forking over that much money to see their team, even if they do, so it's an awfully big assumption to make that hockey fans would pay the same amount of money to see two teams they're not as attached to.
I don't have any memory of this, but maybe I'm wrong. Lotteries and high ticket prices aren't conducive to group sales. It's near impossible for a youth hockey team to go to the Bell Centre for a Canadiens game, I know. But I've seen kids' soccer teams at Impact games and basketball teams watching the Harlem Globetrotters. Why not make seats more available to the children and teens who are basically the backbone of Hockey Canada?

Advertise better. This isn't really anyone's fault. I feel like the World Juniors had better buzz in previous seasons, when they were broadcast on the same network as NHL games. This year has just been awkward, with no lead-up to the World Juniors during Wednesday Night Hockey, no friendly reminders from James Duthie that the tournament starts soon. But there isn't really anything that the World Juniors can do about the feast of fools that is the NHL on Sportsnet. (It could have been so much better.)
Still, there's got to be a better way to build up buzz. If the Olympics can do it on a very large scale, why can't the World Juniors do it on a small scale? If it's a big deal on TV (spurring endless editorials about the pressure on young players), why can't it be a big deal in real life? Where are the sponsors before the tournament starts? The tournament is sponsored by a bank and a gas station - all of their locations could have posters and countdowns going for weeks before Boxing Day. Sponsoring airlines and couriers can put Team Canada logo decals on their vehicles. All of the sponsors can have contests, giveaways, anything. If my bank sent me an email with a draw for gold-medal game tickets instead of another credit card offer, I'd be thrilled.

Make a bigger deal out of training camp. If training sessions and scrimmages are open to the public, shouldn't the public know about it? There's a market for offseason hockey, and Hockey Canada and the IIHF need to tap into it. Make training camp dates, times, and locations readily available to fans - don't keep the information exclusive or bury it somewhere in the depths of your website.

Paint the town red. It's times like this that I wish there wasn't so much construction and congestion around the Bell Centre. Fans need space! There's more space around the ACC. Time for the WJC to truly take over the city. I mean, where is Mayor Coderre in all this? I thought he was supposed to be our sports bro. I know there's a fan jam at Windsor Station, but to be honest, they made a bigger deal out of the Grey Cup festival in 2008. (And people say this is a hockey town.) How about launch parties at local bars or arenas a few days before the tournament? Why not appoint someplace in Montreal the local "hockey house", like Toronto has with RealSports? The beer sponsors can have a ball with this. We're Canadian. Let's do what we do best.
Worried about promoting federalism in Quebec? Push the hometown heroes. I'm sure that Quebecois players love the idea of having home ice advantage in an international championship. Make them the local face of Team Canada. This province has embraced athletes like the Dufour-Lapointe sisters and Charles Hamelin, so there's no reason why they wouldn't do the same for any francophone member of Team Canada.

Encourage the international fans. It is, after all, a world championship. Why not encourage a little friendly rivalry? Make it easy for fans of Germany, Russia, and Slovakia to find whatever merchandise they want. Sell tickets to team-specific sections at the Bell Centre. Help fanbases to find locations for watch parties. I consider myself pretty fortunate to live in the country and NHL city that I root for. If ever I moved, I would love to find a place where I could surround myself with other Team Canada or Habs fans. It would be so much fun to see a Sweden section cheering on their team, or to hop around different hubs in the city meeting fans and trading flags.

It's unfair to think that Montreal somehow failed the WJC when this tournament was mis-managed. Contrary to popular belief, sports fans don't only exist to make money for people who already have it. If the IIHF and Hockey Canada do a little better next time, they'll reap the rewards of better attendance.

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