IIHF World Championships got underway today. The games started with a ton of media critique over the ticket prices and it showed in all of the games of the opening day. For the first game of the tournament between USA and France, the Hartwall Arena (with capacity of 13,000) in Helsinki drew 8,402 spectators (see picture below), while in Stockholm (Globen capacity is in the 10,000 region) the first game between Germany and Italy drew just over a 1,000 pairs of eyes to watch the games
It didn’t go much better for the other games as Canada and Slovakia, with some super-star names in their respective rosters, drew an audience of 6,400, which was depressing as under the bar stands of the Hartwall arena, there was not a single spectator watching the game (see picture below). Good on the Slovakian fans for making a lot of noise, cheering on their own. It seems that Slovakians love hockey no matter what game and at what level of play they are watching it
The games themselves were a bit sluggish. France held on valiantly for a period and a half before the US team finally clicked and started controlling the game. Rather empathically the French kept trying but the USA team had just way too much skill and speed on its roster for the French to match it.
There’s a lot that’s been said about team Canada, with its deep roster of NHL players. However, the game against Slovakia left me unconvinced that the team was something that would send shockwaves across the world. Perhaps part of it was due to the fact that several of the key players on the Canadian roster (Tavares, Getzlaf, Perry among others) were seen in the Helsinki nightlife the night before the game. There was a lot of speculation that the teams’ moist night out lead to the cancellation of the morning skate. Canada was visibly sluggish in the first period and the Slovakian’s held on to the very end, even if the Canadian team started to find its legs. I wouldn’t say that Slovakia will be a ‘pushover’ in these games as it was in the last years world championships. Canada won the game 3-2 in the end, but again, there’s a lot to be desired for from the Canadian team looking at the names they’ve got on paper.
Let’s hope that the guys on the roster aren’t treating the World Championship tournament as a roadie with the boys and a chance to have some fun away from home and play a few games of hockey while they’re at it. It is an easy thing to have happen in the world championships. I guess all the Finns remember the rumours from the Moscow world championships a few years ago with supposed helicopter rides to Helsinki and back and not all players being fresh for game days.
The Finland vs Belarus game did draw a big-ish crowd, reported at 12,354, which still left almost a thousand empty seats at the arena. The game itself was… well… it was boring. The Finns were in control for most of the game but couldn’t really get anything going. It seemed that the audience in Helsinki woke up to a hockey game in the 3rd period when the first full arena “Suomi” chant was heard. Finland had plenty of power play opportunities in the game but didn’t make anything of it, except maybe prove that the team can pass the puck really well. That being said there were some good things to take away from the game and I’m carefully optimistic about the teams’ chances in the tournament. We won’t know our full capability until games against the likes of Slovakia, Canada and USA. Kari Lehtonen was definitely Finland’s MVP in the game. He had two saves in the first period and was sharp throughout the game when Belarus had some good scoring opportunities.
Even Finnish D-man Anssi Salmela had his bit to say about the attendance to the games. In a post game press conference he was quoted saying “I normally don’t pay attention to the stands, but I have to admit that it was quiet today.” I guess the Finnish teams’ PR person has to have words with Salmela again, just like after this interview after last years’ world championships: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03nIcG6mXVQ
EDIT:It didn’t go that well in Sweden either, where the game between Sweden and Norway only drew a crowd of 5,985 to Globen. Across the three games played in Globen, the games have so far drawn a total of 8,000 spectators. Now on any standards that is poor, specially if it is across three games.
One can only hope that the organisers will do something, ANYTHING, to the ticket prices or hire people to come in to watch the games. Otherwise, the 2012 World Championships will forever be remembered for the low attendance. People at the top can say what they want about the cost of organising the games, but no one can ignore the rafts of empty seats at the arenas. It’s not good for hockey or for the reputation of the World Championship tournament.
However, the YouTube streams of the games are a welcome plus. I can’t commend the IIHF and its media rights holder enough for getting the games on the web, live and for free. It’s a great feat and its a great way to follow the games, even if the commentators cause some hilarity, bless them though as for most of them, English is clearly not their first language.
However, the YouTube streams did cause somewhat of a debacle in Finland. At first, like reported here yesterday, it was said that Finland would be on the geo-blocked country list, but by the time the puck dropped for the USA – France game, people could tune into watch the games on YouTube. It wasn’t until midway through the game that the feed was blocked in Finland. It appears that the MTV3, who has exclusivity for TV rights in Finland had to place numerous calls to the IIHF to get the games blocked as it went against the contract they had signed for the games.
Oh well, there are ways around it with different proxy settings and so on, so all is not lost.
Hopefully the games will pick up from here and we are in for some great hockey in the tournament and that we will see both the arenas, Hartwall Arena in Helsinki and Globen in Stockholm, filled with fans. Though with those ticket prices the sarcast in me thinks we’ll not see a sold out arena, except for the final.