The battle for junior hockey’s greatest prize should have all eyes glued to the ice, but early on at the 100th Memorial Cup, empty seats at the Brandt Centre in Regina are getting most of the attention.
“It’s kind of disappointing when you’ve got your home team hosting the Memorial Cup and you come in and don’t see hardly any fans,” Regina Pats fan Marv Magnuson lamented. “I hope it’s a wake-up call for the league.”
The opening match between the host Pats and Ontario Hockey League champion Hamilton Bulldogs pulled a crowd of 5,678 people — a far cry from the sellout crowd Regina normally sees in the playoffs.
People on social media were quick to point out the gaps in the crowd, while some fans lamented ticket prices that start at $75.
“We could have filled this arena. We could have filled every seat, standing room only. We could have filled it all with better prices,” Pats fan Perry Pachkowski added. “We paid it because we know it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have your host team still in it fighting for the Memorial Cup.”
Halifax is hosting next year’s Memorial Cup and organizers have already confirmed they will be slashing ticket prices. In a pamphlet sent to Mooseheads season ticket holders earlier this week, the team said it would focus on junior hockey at junior hockey prices.
Packages for season-ticket holders will work out to around $40 a game, while the general public will pay a slightly higher price.
The Pats’ hosting committee says Halifax is in a completely different situation, and they expect attendance to increase after the long weekend.
“Every location has a different circumstance, has a different size of arena. It has a different fee that it’s paying to the CHL. I think some people think we get all the revenue from ticket sales and we don’t,” host committee chair Shaun Semple said. “Their arena has more than 11,000 seats, that’s twice as large as this one. Their fee, I think, is half of what we’re paying for a fee as well.”
Thursday’s outdoor opening ceremonies and Eagles concert drew 27,000 fans, despite heavy rain and wind.
Some fans say they’d pay any price to watch the NHL stars of tomorrow.
“I’ve always bought all of the packages. It’s a little higher than some of the ones I’ve been to, but it’s priceless,” Acadie-Bathurst Titan fan Chuck Johnstone said.
He’s traveled to six Memorial Cup tournaments across the country and is already preparing for next year.
As of Sunday afternoon, none of the games has sold out. Wednesday’s battle of Saskatchewan between the Regina Pats and Swift Current Broncos, and next weekend’s finals have the most tickets sold.
The host committee is confident the remaining games will be played in front of a full house, and fans say they’re behind the hometown team – but many are still planning to cheer from home.