Empty Seats in Finland Looked Bad….Did the NHL Notice?


Last weekend must have been a special experience for a few NHL players who were able to play in their homeland. Considering there are some NHL fans abroad,  spreading the popularity of hockey to other countries is not necessarily a bad thing. But the money which was spent to travel over 8,000 miles round trip by a professional hockey franchise and the league, could have been utilized in a more productive way to promote the sport.

If the intention of the NHL was to expose the Chicago Blackhawks to a foreign audience the arena in Helsinki should have been filled to capacity. It was ironic the team which led the NHL in attendance would travel thousands of miles only to play in front of a less than capacity crowd. More curious was the 11,526 in attendance for the second game which was even fewer than 12,056 for the season opener. It was not as if the opening night performance was shabby.

This is not to be critical of hockey fans in Finland, but the NHL and other responsible parties abroad had an obligation to make sure every seat was filled. If the idea was to expose a new audience to NHL hockey than vastly inflated ticket prices should not have been part of the plan. I know some team jerseys were sold…. but forget the merchandising sales they should have been just cream on the cake.

How can the NHL promote their game around the world if there aren’t fannies in the seats to watch the show?

The aim should have been to play an NHL contest in front of a packed house and not to charge a ridiculous amounts for tickets. As was mentioned on the Blackhawks telecast, the tickets in the highest level were priced at about $200 US. There were empty row after row of those seats.

More disturbing were the many empty seats at rink side. No doubt those tickets had to be way above the appropriate price point of hockey enthusiasts in Finland. Certainly the economics of today should have been taken into consideration.

So not only were games not sold out, but many television highlights sent to parts unknown, showed row after row of empty seats. Now that is an unwanted scene which could happen in many arenas in North America, there was no need to travel to Finland.

Wouldn’t it have been better to give the unsold tickets to charities or whoever else would have been grateful for the opportunity to see a NHL hockey game? Besides being the right gesture, the sport would at least have had a chance of gaining another fan.

To let those seats stay empty didn’t help promote the game of hockey. Rather it was a profound waste and a picture the NHL would never have wanted shown. It would have been much better to showcase the great game of hockey in places where fans would eagerly attend. Maybe then something would have been accomplished to justify the cost and inconvenience.

Overseas expansion is far down on the wish list for the NHL, or it should be.

How many empty seats would there have been if a game was played in Hamilton? I bet there would have been a sell out in Kansas City as well. In each of those cities hockey fans have had their chains pulled for too long concerning the possibility of getting a NHL franchise.

How about playing a game in Quebec City, Winnipeg, Las Vegas or maybe even Madison Wisconsin? Once again from a business standpoint it seems much more could have been accomplished by staying in North America.

If the NHL doesn’t already realize….. This is not the time to push the envelop.

The economy is taking its toll on avid sports fans everywhere. That is especially true if the tickets are overpriced.

Even the New York Yankees can’t ask outrageous prices for regular season games, new stadium or not.  For the first time since 1973, the most famous college football team in North America almost didn’t sell out a home game. Notre Dame went until late afternoon on Friday before selling out last Saturday’s home game against Washington. For those not around in 1973, it was also a time of a sluggish economy but the unemployment rate was not nearly as high as today.

Tuesday, in a report on CNBC  a sobering stat was reported. Over 40% of sports tickets bought by corporations go unused or are resold through ticket brokers. Many lower bowl seats at NHL stadiums are sold to corporations; hopefully they keep buying because season tickets sales are the life blood of franchises.

From a selfish standpoint I don’t want to see ticket sales decline which would then lead to a salary cap decrease for next year.  Hawk fans realize a lower salary cap for 2010-2011 will make things even more difficult when trying to re-sign star players. I will have more to say soon on next year’s Hawks team. For now, I want to finish up on this year’s roster decisions.

Money almost always matters. But the decision to send Jack Skille back to the Rockford Ice Hogs was not due to a lack of salary cap space.

I though there was good chance Skille would have stuck around after camp broke. In reality Skille is not as good of a fourth liner player as Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, Tomas Kopecky or whoever else is on the current roster.

The reason I thought Skille would get a longer stay is because for once his contract amount wasn’t hindering his chances of playing in Chicago. The Hawks have salary cap space for awhile because of the Hossa shoulder surgery. Once he returns from injury then a decision on Skille would have had to be made.

The Hawks didn’t wait; they already knew Skille would not be able to fill an appropriate role. It had nothing to do with newcomer Radek Smolenak being given a longer look; it was all about Skille being a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

The Hawks roll four lines, players have specific roles. Unfortunately for Skille he can’t play as a top six forward and can’t fit into a third  or fourth line slot either.  The skill level in Chicago is much higher than it has been in many years.  Young Skille is not  a complete enough player to fit in…. yet. One does have to wonder if he ever will find an appropriate role with the Hawks.

Once again it may all come down to money.

If the salary cap goes  down next season and somehow the Hawks do re-sign Pat Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews then Skille may actually have a better chance of landing a roster spot. If the big three stay other high priced players  will be elsewhere.

Times are changing, and even a $1 million contract like Troy Brouwer just signed isn’t easy to come by these days.  This season Skille is a $1.275 million salary cap hit, next year if he is re-signed in Chicago he may be earning less. If so, Skille may finally get a chance. He will be priced right and will not have as much competition to deal with for top line spots. Maybe then he will fit in. Skille is a restricted free agent after this season.

The economy seems to be taking its toll everywhere.  For sure every penny spent next year in Chicago will matter a great deal.


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  1. RyanB says:

    Good post.
    I watched those games and was shocked to see the stands. Not quite like previous years but the world economy isn’t quite like previous years either. I get wanting to grow the game but that image and empty seats don’t help grow the game.
    On a side note all four coaches that went to Europe lost their jobs last season. How many of these four will suffer the same fate?

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      My guess would be none.

      • RyanB says:

        I think all four are good coaches and shouldn’t be losing their jobs anytime soon. But aside from Melrose I would have said the same about the coaches last year too.

  2. jt19 says:

    i’m not a jack skille fan at all… he needs to mold himself into a dan cleary type player who knows his roll and can perform it in that kind of fashion (or find a new start in another franchise).

  3. RyanB says:

    I noticed to plug on Puck Daddy’s headlines. Good work.

  4. Paul says:

    The problem with Helsinki games were too expensive tickets. I live in Helsinki, and I really love hockey and NHL, but even the cheapest tickets cost almost $150! Come on! I’m unemployed, I have to pay my bills and rent. There’s no way to get people pay so much for one game of hockey, even if it is NHL!

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