BY ALEX LUPUL
Gold medals for Canada, narrow victories and a snow-covered outdoor game made the 2018 edition of the World Junior Hockey Championship a memorable one. But for tournament organizers, the biggest concern is that there was no one watching.
Whether it be marquee matchups or relegation games, Buffalo’s KeyBank Center frequently showcased a sea of empty blue seats, instead of waves of adoring fans filling the seats.
An inescapable sight in person, the lack of attendance robbed the tournament of the intense atmosphere present during the gold medal game.
In 2011, when Buffalo last hosted the tournament, 329,687 fans were in attendance. While the 2011 tournament benefited from hosting close to the Greater Toronto Area for the first time since 1986, the 2018 edition failed in comparison, with 211,210 fans in attendance.
World Juniors Attendance History
It’s important to note that the 2018 attendance numbers also benefited by holding the first outdoor game, with 44,592 fans in attendance. The outdoor game alone accounted for 21.11 per cent of total attendance, making it responsible for inflating the total above 200,000 fans.
As of now, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has yet to disclose whether any future sites will feature an outdoor game, but with the lack of attendance in 2018, the governing body appears content with being more selective in their decision-making.
Many have speculated that “tournament fatigue” may have set in, as three tournaments in four years have been located in Southern Ontario and Western New York.
During a press conference IIHF president Rene Fasel confirmed this concern, stating, “We tried, but it shows us in the future to be more careful (spacing tournaments out).”
Vancouver and Victoria, B.C., will co-host the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, for the first time since hosting in 2006. The Czech Republic will act as hosts in 2020, before the tournament returns to Canada in 2021, with the host city yet to be announced.
This course of action may prove to be best for the tournament, with 2019 organizers stating that three-quarters of the tickets have already been sold.
“I felt for Buffalo and the empty seats,” said Barry Petrachenko, co-chairman of the 2019 tournament, “but that will not be the case for next year.”