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I love you Memorial Cup, but we need to talk about ticket prices

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There’s no good reason for empty seats at a junior hockey game, in a town this passionate for it.

This is mid-game - Seattle vs Saint John

Hi Memorial Cup, CHL, and organizers. Can you have a seat? We need to have a chat.

You know how much I love you, right? I spent half of my vacation days to take ten days off and travel to Windsor at my own expense to spend them all in the basement and rafters of the WFCU Centre (maybe the parking lot occasionally), because this is the best hockey tournament to watch in my mind.

That’s why it hurts to look out at the crowd and see this:

In a town as hockey mad as Windsor, at a tournament for the most die hard fans who travel across the continent to get here, how can you not sell the games out?

Well, it’s easy: You charge $70-90 per ticket.

I did some math here, and the cheapest adult season ticket package with the Spitfires costs $425. That’s 34 games, so it breaks down to $12.50 per ticket, great price for anyone who can afford seasons seats.. The cheapest walk up for the playoffs was $20. That’s average for the OHL, and twenty bucks is what most people would expect for a regular season game, some of the bigger arenas or popular teams can reach $30, but that’s where most places top out.

So, the cheapest season tickets are $425. The cheapest full tournament package, for nine games, is $672.35 after tax, or $74.71 per ticket versus $12.50. A jump of 600% for the same seat.

Now, we should expect some increase in prices for special events. Playoffs see an increase in prices - Windsor would have moved the $20 playoff tickets up to $27 for the OHL Finals - but there has to be a limit, people can only afford so much. In a city that has seen five auto factories close, and its biggest hockey loving neighbour is, well, Detroit.

This isn’t something limited to Windsor either. Junior hockey events are being priced way out of its fan base across the country. Past Memorial Cup tournaments have seen this happen, with great games not selling out. The Wold Junior Championships in Montreal and Toronto have brought this fault in pricing to the national stage, where even Team Canada games couldn’t sell out.

The OHL Fanboys podcast spoke with CHL President David Branch about this yesterday, and you can listen to the full interview here. This is what David Branch had to say:

We recognize that our strength is our fans. We were very fortunate to have such loyal fans, we know that, and we should never lose sight of that. I sit on the steering committee for the hosts of the World Junior tournament, and we did a debrief this year. There was more than one factor [in low attendance] but ticket pricing is one, and we are making plans to recognize this for Vancouver and Victoria in 2019. Back to this tournament, we’re just getting started, and let’s get through it, and then that’s the time we’ll get opinions from the Spitfires, and other people around the game including our fans.

One thing that can not be stressed enough, is that we can’t put the blame on the amazing fans here in Windsor. Tickets for Windsor’s round robin games are $90. The cheapest ticket for the Eastern Conference Final for the Senators vs Penguins in Ottawa was $82. That’s the third round of the NHL playoffs costing less that an OHL game. It shouldn’t be like this.

At the very least, to fill the seats for TV, they should be giving tickets that are unsold after puck drop to the dozens, upon dozens of volunteers who make this tournament happen. I had one driver who’s never been to a hockey game since she’s come to Canada, what better time to go than a best on best tournament?

Junior Hockey is a niche level of hockey no matter where you go. You’ll always have the diehards, as we’ve seen this weekend in Windsor, who will travel to the tournament whether their team is playing or not (click here for a great summary of CHL fans in action at the Fan Breakfast from OHL Pucks & Stripes). Every town with a team has thousands of diehard season ticket holders and fans who have more intensity for their team than I’ve seen out of even the hardest of hardcore NHL fans.

This is why it’s so disappointing that the best on best tournament is being broadcast on Sportsnet with so many empty seats. It’s like the Air Canada Centre in the first 10 minutes of the game. The fans are here. This is a great junior hockey town - yesterday I was woken up by neighbours yelling across the street at each other about the Windsor vs Seattle game. This tournament could be 100% sold out if the prices were in the junior hockey range, not the NHL range. The CHL, OHL, Q, and W need to recognize where their leagues stand in the market place, and act accordingly.

There’s no shame in punching up and growing, but you need to make sure people can watch your product in order to do so.