HELSINKI – The IIHF, along with the Finnish and Swedish organizing committees, had a positive overall impression of the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. But at the same time, all are eager to draw the right conclusions and improve for 2013.
It was the first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship jointly hosted by two national ice hockey associations. Originally the 2012 event was supposed to be in Finland and the 2013 Worlds in Sweden, but the Congress approved a proposal by the two organizations in 2009 to co-host the event in both years.
Another co-hosted bid might be allowed at the earliest for 2017. The two-year co-hosting has the advantage of enabling the organizers to improve the event when it will takes place at the same venues the following year. In 2013, Stockholm will host the semi-finals and the medal games.
Furthermore, the format was changed for 2012, with two groups consisting of eight teams each in the Preliminary Round. This eliminated the former secondary round, where fans didn’t know in advance when their team would play or against whom.
At a media conference on Sunday prior to the bronze medal game, IIHF President René Fasel saw pluses and minuses with the changes.
“We hope we can do some adjustments during the summer. We also think that the organizers will adjust the price policy,” Fasel said.
After one year of experience in co-hosting, the IIHF President had a positive assessment.
“I think we would have had fewer spectators if we had hosted this tournament in one country,” he said. “I think in the future the two-country format is a good one.”
Fan-friendlier price policy needed
The event will finish with a total official attendance of more than 450,000 spectators – an average of about 7,040 fans in each of the 64 games.
“We had great hockey games and unbelievable fans. In the last games in Helsinki we had games and an atmosphere that was amazing,” Fasel said. “The games didn’t end as expected, which makes sports so wonderful.”
Although the official attendance was the sixth-highest in the long World Championship history, the IIHF expects measures that will decrease the number of empty seats.
“The pricing policy was the wrong one,” Fasel said. “The hosts are going to change the policy for next year, and I’m happy about that.”
Kalervo Kummola, IIHF Vice President and President of the Finnish Ice Hockey Association, echoed that promise.
“We made some mistakes in the ticket pricing in the beginning, but I’m quite satisfied with the organization. There haven’t been any complaints from the teams,” Kummola said.
“I can guarantee that we will have more price categories next year and try to fill the arena also during the daytime.”
In addition, Christer Englund, IIHF Council Member and President of the Swedish Ice Hockey Association, announced changes for next year.
“We didn’t succeed that well in Sweden with selling tickets,” he said. “Of course we have to look it over for the next year. We have learned a lot and we will prepare in another way for next year.”
Format to be evaluated
Fasel also saw other factors besides ticket prices leading to lower attendances than hoped for. With the format change, planning was made easier for teams and fans, but the number of games increased from 56 to 64 – one more for each team – and the schedule became tighter.
“If we have three games a day and play a game at 12:15 during the week, it’s not easy to fill the arena,” Fasel said. “Respecting our fans, we have to give back to the fans what they missed this year and improve for next year.”
The heavier schedule also made the tournament tougher for the teams. It will be discussed how to react and whether teams should be allowed to have rosters with more than the current 25-player maximum.
“We had a lot of thoughts when we were deciding so,” IIHF General Secretary Horst Lichtner said about the format, “but we have to accept also the negative points.”
“We have eliminated the unpredictable games in the secondary round of the old format, but we learned that the extra games with the new format are very difficult to sell. We have to review the decision.”
A study with eight target groups was conducted during the tournament to evaluate the new format and the co-hosting of the event. “We think we will have the results by mid or end of June and we will draw the right conclusions,” said Lichtner.
The question of the number of teams
One thing that has been suggested not only this year is to reduce the number of participating teams from 16 to 14.
“It would be more convenient if we had 14 teams and 50 [instead of 64] games,” Kummola said. “Some teams had to play four games in five days, and that’s maybe a little bit too much. I know it’s not easy to change the format. We already have championships assigned until 2016.”
“Playing ten games at this level here is not so easy,” Fasel added. “But reducing the number of teams is a political decision that has to be made by the Congress.”
In terms of the organization at the venues, IIHF General Secretary Horst Lichtner was satisfied with what he saw.
“We have had a wonderful tournament with lots of positive elements,” Lichtner said at another media event on Saturday. “We had great volunteer contribution. They did an excellent job, they were smiling and we got positive feedback. The players are an important asset for us and I have to say from the perspective of the players at the arena, the hotels and transportation, there were many positive comments in the directorate meetings.”
Also, the perception of the event outside the arenas was encouraging.
“We have impressive TV numbers. We have had record numbers in some countries,” said Lichtner, who was also happy with recent activity in areas like the Internet, social media and mobile apps.
“We have initiated many things. The world of communications is in a state of constant change, and we are dealing with it,” he said.