Saturday, 20 August 2022

Stating The Obvious

The gentleman to the left is the character "Captain Obvious" from the set of commercials. I'm not here to discuss his work, but it seems that he may have been hired by the IIHF after listening to their reasons for what is likely one of the worst Canadian-hosted World Junior Championships in modern history. Maybe ever. Attendance was down. Viewership was down. Interest was down. As a result, profits were down. Let me just state this for all who are reading: it was also all deserved.

According to IIHF information, the average attendance per game at the 2022 World Junior Championship was just 1525 fans. Canada clocked in at 4400 fans per game, but it's pretty clear there were great sections available for anyone who wanted to go. As stated here and on The Hockey Show, there would be no coverage whatsoever from this corner of the hockey world, and I stuck to that promise because holding a tournament like this in August was beyond stupid. Adding in that olding it in Canada in conjuction with Hockey Canada was completely inappropriate, and you could see why my interest was at an all-time low.

IIHF Luc Tardif held his tournament-ending press conference with reporters, and he admitted that the tournament ran into a number of issues regarding times, ticket prices, and the scandal following Hockey Canada.

"We knew August was not the best time and we did not expect the attendance that we do usually," he told reporters before the gold-medal final today. Tardif, playing the role of Captain Obvious with that statement, likely should have accepted that the 2022 tournament wasn't going to be saved after COVID derailed it in December and January, but the IIHF never quite reads the room as they should.

Other IIHF executives weighed in with their thoughts on this edition of the tournament as well.

"(The IIHF) does not set the prices," tournament chair Henrik Bach Nielsen said. "I do not know if the prices were set as normal world juniors and there was no reaction to this. Personally, coming from Denmark, $50, $60, $100 for one of these games? Yeah, that's a high price."

That price would be set by the Oilers and Hockey Canada who were looking to make up for the shortfalls they were experiencing at this tournament. Reported prices of gold medal tickets prior to game time were $210 - an absurd amount of money at any time, let alone for a summer hockey tournament. Because there was already little interest going into the tournament, the warning flags regarding the problems this tournament was going to face were present, but it seems that everyone chose to ignore them.

Hockey Canada issued statements that indicate a complete ignornance of how little this tournament meant to everyone.

"First, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed this tournament to August," the organization said in a statement. "And second, there is understandable scrutiny from Canadians of Hockey Canada and the culture of hockey."

Let's just break that statement down because there are a couple of flaws in that rationale. Yes, the tournament was delayed due to COVID, but it certainly didn't have to be delayed until August. In fact, it didn't have to be played at all after being cancelled. We could have simply askterisked the record books just like we did for a number of other IIHF tournaments and moved on. Knowing that there was a better-than-good chance that this tournament was going to fail by IIHF-tournaments-in-Canada standards, not holding it and simply looking ahead to the 2023 tournament would have likely been the better course of action by the IIHF.

The understatement of the "scrutiny" by Canadians shows just how much Hockey Canada hopes to downplay the toxic cultural issues they have within their organization. The problems still exist, the investigations still continue, the players responsible still have not stepped forward, and no one from Hockey Canada has lost their jobs despite the mounting evidence that Hockey Canada was not only aware of the problems, but helped cover up those problems. The very nature of having Hockey Canada try to profit from the tournament that has thrust them into the spotlight for their failures not only seems wrong, but downright criminal. Until heads start rolling, the "scrutiny" can, will, and should haunt Hockey Canada.

To recap, no one was really wanting this tournament in August, but the IIHF and Hockey Canada went ahead and played it anyway. They killed interest from both hardcore and casual fans by pricing tickets astronomically high, so attendance waned even further. Beyond that, scrutiny towards Hockey Canada over the investigation into the organization for many acts of misconduct drove away sponsors, television viewers, and fans alike.

If this tournament moves back to December and January, it should get better. If heads roll at Hockey Canada, it should get better. If ticket prices were so exorbitant, it should get better. If the IIHF and the organizing committee for future tournaments can see all three things are done in unison, this tournament should return to the prominence it enjoyed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Perhaps Bach Nielsen said it best at the press conference when he stated, "This is one-time, here in Edmonton with this situation in August. So I don't think we have any plans to change the world juniors. We just need to come back to normal."

Normal: what a unique concept in the sport of hockey. The IIHF should look into making more things like that if possible.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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