The IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships are just around the corner. In the host nation the anticipation for the games is at its peak. The reigning world champions are hosting the games with Sweden and Finland is ranked at number one at the IIHF rankings. Not bad for a nation of 5.5million and who have only won the world championship twice and is eagerly waiting for its first Olympic gold medal (no pressure guys).
However, one thing that has actually hit me quite hard after reading an open letter by the editor of the Finnish Urheilulehti. The editor, Esko Seppanen, criticises the Finnish Ice Hockey association’s chief, Kalervo Kummola over the pricing policy of the games.
I have seen stories written about the high priced tickets at the games, but the letter written by Seppanen really hits the nail on the head. In a letter published in Urheilulehti on 26.04 and the magazine’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150772714449851&set=a.10150689498594851.420270.358693599850&type=1) Seppanen writes “Dear Mr. Kummola, You have deserted the Finnish hockey fans with your extortionate ticket prices. You have shown that the fans do not matter in your money making scheme.” (see translation of the letter at the end of this post)
Harsh words on the eve of the games in a nation that has seen a huge boost in hockey since last years’ World Championship finals. In fact, the hockey boom was evident in nearly every news outlets’ reporting. The local professional league Sm-Liiga was covered more widely than ever before and attendance was up, not to mention the emergence of some of the greatest young talents the Finnish hockey system has produced in years! Even the NHL was covered to the point that it didn’t matter whether a team had any Finns on its roster. This maybe a slight over exaggeration, but this years’ coverage has been a real pleasure to follow and it feels like for the first time in years that hockey is generating discussions around the water cooler again.
While I have been relying mainly on the news papers and Twitter to get a feel of the preparations to the games, it would appear that the marketing effort for the games has not focussed on the ticket sales, but rather to push TV packages to watch the games from the comfort of your home. In his letter Seppanen calls out this fact by stating “The tournament in Helsinki starts next Friday. Mr. Kummola, have you seen a single advert that sells tickets to the games? No, you haven’t. Neither have I, or anyone else for that matter. What have we seen? Buy this super-turbo-mega package of channels. Watch the games from your couch! Better yet! Upgrade to a HD-Package”
Every time I visit Finland, I am confused of the TV packages and what provider offers what channels and what bolt-ons one would have to buy to get the channels that show hockey. Trust me, I feel sometimes feel like you need a degree in astro-physics to make sure that you get all the games. What I have learnt is that in Finland Nelonen Pro shows the NHL. For the World Championships the TV rights for the games were sold to MTV3 from Yle (think of Yle like the Finnish BBC). With MTV, I have no idea what channel in its vast plethora of pay to view channels the games are going to be shown on. It is incredibly confusing. Imagine if you are a tourist and want to catch a game in your hotel room. Chances are the hotel doesn’t have the channel on its channel list, or then there is the option of calling reception to ask what channel a game is on, go to a bar to watch it, or just simply give up.
But what of the ticket prices themselves then? One would like to think that Finland being the reigning champion and the games being hosted in Finland (and Sweden) that the prices would be competitive and comparative to the other World Championship tournaments. Well, according to the letter by Seppanen a family of five would have to pay €1000 ($1,320) to go see Finland vs France. A THOUSAND Euros for Finland vs France. Comparatively, tickets to Canada vs USA would cost €196 ($258) and the semi-final would cost from €175 ($231) to €226 ($298), though I have seen a tweet of someone getting a ticket for the afore mentioned CAN-USA game for €40.
I need to take a breather here as I’m about to faint from just looking at that. How can a family of five afford a €1000 in this economy to go watch hockey, not to mention all the other expenditure (parking, refreshments, merchandise etc etc) associated with a trip to a hockey game. To some the €1000 is half of their monthly salary, if not all of their monthly salary. As Seppanen points out in his letter, it would be cheaper for that family of five to go watch the Champions’ League Final in Munich than to go watch Finland play France.
In fact just to put it into perspective, I saw someone tweet earlier in the week that in 1998 when Finland last hosted the World Championship, they were able to buy a ticket to the final in the black market for €90. That’s cheap for a ticket to the finals… on the black market. I dread to think what a single ticket on the black market would cost to go see the 2012 finals. And yet, Kummola has the audacity to wonder why the tickets aren’t selling as expected, or proclaim that the prices are on par with NHL regular season game prices. Well, him and his peers have set the prices and it’s too late to back out now.
If I was to go and watch the games in my native Finland, I would have to shell about €250-300 on flights alone and then pay almost the same to go watch Finland play France? Give me a break. I love my hockey, I really do, but there has to be a line somewhere. For those kinds of prices, I’m expecting that I would be treated like a royal.
I would rather use that money and go on holiday somewhere. At least the holiday would last longer than 60 minutes.
I really do feel bad for hockey fans in Finland and those foreign fans who have paid a top dollar to fly over to support their nation in the games. It is a huge expenditure just to watch a few games, not to mention the fact that Helsinki isn’t exactly the cheapest capital city in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I like Helsinki, but it is expensive.
I really can’t help but feel that these games are for the elite and that there is a them and us mentality between the organisers and the fans. It is almost like a throwback to the good old days of societal class structure. I’m sure there are fans who will pay tooth and nail to go see the games, but my mind boggles at how someone can seriously think that the pricing structure for the games is fair? To be honest, if I was in Finland, I would rather go to a bar to watch the games than shell out money for an additional TV package or one of the ludicrously priced tickets
I fear that the cheapest way to watch the games for any fan would be to buy their nations’ game package from the IIHF website, hook their laptop to their TV and put the radio on for commentary. That’s what I’ll have to resort to as there is no way that I can justify spending what would be probably two month’s wages to go watch some hockey, or less if I just wanted to soak up the atmosphere.
I don’t know whether we’ll see a colourful cavalcade of fans at the games, like we are used to with the World Championships, due to these prices or whether we will have arenas full of men in suits. I for one want to see people decked out in quirky outfits and that dude dressed in the cat costume drinking a (blow up) bottle of Fisherman’s Friend flavoured vodka.
Seppanen sums up three key facts that the organisers have done well and I have to agree with him. “Mr. Kummola, you have succeeded in three things: 1. You started to cash in on the national pride, which died at the collective level really quickly. 2. You abandoned your core fans. Those fans who lived vicariously with the Finnish team throughout the whole 2011 World Championships have been ruthlessly cut off. 3. You have turned our home games into a neutral event, where the home team has no advantage on its side as the stands have been turned into venues for the games’ corporate partners.”
Seppanen fires off a great finish to his letter by stating “I know that you don’t care Mr. Kummola. But the Finnish hockey fan does care!”
I hope that the games will be entertaining and that people will fill the arenas as otherwise the games might go down in history, and not in a good way. My fear is that this will leave a massive brown, smelly stain on the Finnish hockey credibility if the games are not sold out. Could you imagine either the semi-final or final that would be played to a nearly empty arena?
Thanks to Esko Seppanen at Urheilulehti (www.urheilulehti.fi and http://www.urheilulehti.fi/jaakiekko/leijona-liput-hapeallisen-kalliita-kummola-vaihtoi-aidot-faninsa-kylmasti-rahaan) for permitting me to quote and paraphrase his article. You can follow Seppanen on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/#!/EskoSeppanen (tweets mainly in Finnish). Also thanks to Teemu Lindfors (https://twitter.com/#!/TeemuLindfors) and Jan Johansson (https://twitter.com/#!/JanPPa) for ticket price information.
The letter translated:
Dear Kalervo Kummola,
You have shockingly abandoned the Finnish hockey fans with the ticket prices at the World Championships. You have coldly shown that the fans mean nothing in this money making scheme.
You have also shown, that ticket sales are just a part of the whole concept. Mr. Kummola, if we are honest, ticket sales have nothing to do with the games. It is only a plus in your cash flow at the end of the games. Look around you and you’ll understand.
The tournament in Helsinki starts next Friday (4th May). Have you, Mr. Kummola, seen a SINGLE advertisement that would sell TICKETS to the tournament itself? No, no you haven’t. Neither have I – or anyone else for that matter. What have we seen?
Buy this super-turbo-mega package of channels. Watch the games from your couch! Better yet! Upgrade to a HD-Package! (It is perverse that these adverts are displayed at Hartwall Arena, and there is not a word that would push sales of tickets!)
This is what we have seen, however, perhaps more now than at any other point in time in the Finnish sporting history. Regardless of what Finnish website you visit, you will see advertisements for the TV packages. You will not see a single advertisement that would encourage you to buy tickets to see a game.
How can this be Mr. Kummola?
When you shrewdly out-priced the “people” out of your games, you are in the position where you can sell your TV packages for prices that don’t look half bad to the average consumer. If a family of five went to your friends’ Arena to watch Finland – France match, the head of the family would have to pay over a thousand euros for lower level seats! And you have the audacity to wonder why the tickets aren’t selling like hot cakes.
Did I forget to mention that the TV Package providers are the biggest sponsors of the Finnish Ice Hockey Association?
Your goal was never to allow the average income fans to the games at all. That is why you have bolted the doors shut to the average Joe at the Arena. You know full well that the family of five’s wallet will choose the TV package rather than pays a THOUSAND euros for ONE Finland – France match. Unbelievable.
Mr. Kummola, you have succeeded in three things: 1. You started to cash in on the national pride, which died at the collective level really quickly. 2. You abandoned your core fans. Those fans who lived vicariously with the Finnish team throughout the whole 2011 World Championships have been ruthlessly cut off. 3. You have turned our home games into a neutral event, where the home team has no advantage on its side as the stands have been turned into venues for the games’ corporate partners
This letter will carry on in the Urheilulehti World Championships special, which goes on sale on the 26th of April.
I know Mr. Kummola, that you do not care. But the Finnish hockey fan does care!
For the love of sports
Esko Seppanen, Urheilulehti