Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hockey Central? Not By a Long Shot

Toronto is not the Centre of the Hockey Universe; it is merely the Capital of Leafs Nation.

The Toronto Maple Leafs continue to sell out game after game, season after sub-par season. The Marlies, 3rd in the AHL, North division leaders, clinched a playoff spot a week before the Leafs lost their post season dance tickets. According to the game sheet, attendance at Ricoh that night was 4 309. I was at the arena and to say 1500 bums were in seats would be generous.

Leafs lemmings blindly shell out $50.00 for standing room to watch the Leafs lose, yet $40.00 gets a platinum seat to the Marlies. $120.00 gets 4 tickets, 4 pops, 4 popcorn and 4 hot dogs at Ricoh! At the ACC that gets a couple three hours leaning against a cold rail, as far from the ice as possible.

A 30 minute schlep from the ACC gets you even more bang for your hockey bucks. Just over $500.00, the cost of two golds at Always Counting Cash, buys season tickets for the Mississauga St. Mike's Majors. They even throw in the parking and programs! MLSE just seems to throw in the towel. The Majors prices are similar for the other 6 0HL teams within an hour of the Big Smoke.

Brampton and Mississauga were both in the OHL playoffs, yet struggled to fill the seats.

This isn't a new phenomenom. In the 1970s, Toronto's WHA team, the Toros managed at best 10 000 fans at Maple Leaf Gardens. That was largely due to star players Frank Mahovlich, Paul Henderson amd Vaclav Nedomansky.

The Toronto Roadrunners, Edmonton's AHL affiliate had a terrible time getting crowds to Ricoh Coliseum. Pundits placed the blame on bad location and no connection to the Leafs. Location is a non issue; over 1 million people manage to get there just fine during the CNE, thank you very much. Toronto FC fans have no problem getting to BMO Field, and they're not smarter than hockey fans. If they were they wouldn't be at a footie match!

Lacking a Leafs connection is another baseless argument. The Marlies have a 100 year long umbilical cord to the Leafs. For 62 years the Toronto Marlboros were the Buds breeding ground. Despite that, they still had rough spells when it came to ticket sales.

You see, you can't say Torontonians are hockey fans. The ticket take screams otherwise.

Sorry Hogtown, you're Leafs greatest fans, definitely not hockey's.

1 comment:

Dare said...

I wonder if this is something you see in pretty much all cities that have a professional team in addition to a lower level team.

I know in Edmonton, this is the second go-around for Junior hockey. The Ice failed, and now they're trying to make a go of it with the Oil Kings. I'd have to look it up, but I don't think that their attendance has been especially stellar (they're also, what, the most expensive CHL ticket? Brilliant expansion marketing. Anyways, moving on).

I think there's a type of stigma in cities with professional teams, especially in Canada, where fans are expected to be pretty rabid. The Leafs are on the front page of the sports section pretty much every day, whereas it's pretty much impossible to find any mainstream Marlies coverage on a frequent basis. It's easy to start to develop a bond with the NHL guys; you hear their names day in, day out. If you want to become a rabid AHL fan, you actually have to extend the scope of your research on the team. Then you've got the whole "you cheer for the...who?" factor.

When I was home at Christmas, I took in a Marlies game and a Majors game. It was fun, and the hockey was good. But it wasn't the same. I knew one player in the OHL game (Jared Staal), and most of the ones I knew from the Marlies were called up to the big club at the time. The hockey appreciation factor was there, but the "oh man, did you see the sweet play by 'x'! That reminds me of that game when he did 'y'!" factor was missing.