A couple of responses worth putting up in response to Friday's (long) weekend assignment on whatever happened to junior hockey in Toronto. First, John Richardson, a Brampton Battalion and JABS regular:
James Mirtle partially answered his own question: St. Mike's plays in a cramped, crappy rink, with no parking to speak of.
If you go outside of the GTA, junior hockey is alive and well. Peterborough, Owen Sound, and London all sell out (or close to it) and junior hockey franchises are worth millions now. In Brampton and Mississauga it's a bit more problematic.
Brampton has a season ticket base of around 2400, I believe, in a rink that holds slightly under 5,000. Not great, but I'm sure that's better than the Slush Puppies in McCallumtown, who will be a lame duck franchise for the 06/07 season.
(That said, my pair of season tickets for the Battalion - 34 home games, 2 exhibition and the first three playoff games - cost less than a pair of platinum tickets for a couple of Leafs games. Best sports value in town.)
Okay, here are some thoughts on the lukewarm interest in junior hockey in the GTA:
It's not the Leafs. The cliche of course is that Toronto's not a great hockey town, it's simply full of mindless Leafs fans (including me). Hell, the Marlies can't draw flies at the Ricoh.
No strong ties to the community. The Petes, the Knights, the Generals and probably all the Western Hockey League teams are an integral part of the community. The Batallion rink is stuck beside the 407 in what was once farmland. It's just "there". Same with the Hersey Centre which isn't anywhere in particular - but neither is Mississauga.
Competition for the sports/entertainment dollar is a bit stronger here than in smaller centres.
If you're a hockey parent (me, I'm a recovering one), you may be spending three to four nights a week at the rink. When my three boys played in the GTHL (a logistical nightmare if there ever was one), the absolute last thing I wanted to do was go catch a hockey game on a Sunday afternoon.
Cultural. Let's face it, hockey's primarily a game for mostly middle class white kids. That translates into lack of interest amongst the various ethnic communities.
Here's a shot at the Toronto media (when in doubt, blame you guys). Coverage is pathetic. I know Sunaya Sapurji covers the beat on a part time basis for your paper. Terry Koshan does a good job over at the Sun and has done some good stories. The Globe is the Globe. However, generally speaking, articles are few and far between and unless there's a real scandal (like last year in Windsor), there's nothing at all in print or on local TV about the three local teams.
These are all pretty solid points. I'd add a couple more things. One of the casualties of the Ballard era at MLG were the Jr. A Marlies, and during the time I broke into the business I covered junior hockey at the Globe and Star during the final days. It was kind of sad, sitting there down in the gold seats with a couple other reporters -- they didn't even bother opening the press box. I don't recall any kind of Save the Marlboros campaign, either. The audience was measured in the hundreds, way down from the last-hurrah days of a decade earlier, and there was no money being put into the product.
I think the community involvement issue is critical, as well as the general over-all trend toward spectator sports being a more TV-driven thing nowadays. For a variety of reasons - cost and convenience chief among them - television has become the average sports fan's way of keeping track. No TV network has tried to do a Friday night junior game of the week, say, while the NHL and the other top pro leagues in other sports have gone prime time and in many cases, just about every night of the week has at least one of their games on - and more, if you subscribe to some of the packages like Centre Ice.
Another email comes from J. Ruschka, who fingers this town's pro sports barons:
Why? 'Coz if it ain't the Leafs people won't watch it. Folks won't even go to Marlies games!
I was at more than a few IceDogs playoff games a few seasons ago when they made it to the OHL final & the rink was empty the nights the Leafs were playing.
And add a little bit of Eugene Melnyk for buying the Majors, making them play out of a joke of a rink (although they have cheap hot dogs!! :-) ) instead of, say, Varsity Arena when it still existed, and for also alienating the very few hardcore IceDogs fans in Mississauga with his boneheaded idea.
Finally, James Mirtle his own self, in an e-mail exchange after I trotted out the old "competition for the dollar" argument and mentioned 1985 as a seminal turning point in Toronto sports history -- the Jays' first pennant race, and the year that the SkyDome was approved to give this town the "world-class" playpen it always talked about building, thus casting Toronto vs. Hamilton Red Wings and Argos vs. Saskatchewan and the like into something of a lesser light -- had this rebuttal:
Now, honestly, we're talking about Leafs fans. These aren't people going to the opera. They're, as you say, turning to the games on TV, which you can do in Kamloops, Saskatoon, Red Deer or any other junior hockey hotbed out there. I've been here closing in on four years now, and as far as I can tell, people here are doing the exact same things — except the drinks cost more and there are fewer pickup trucks. (And given the dollars to ticket cost ratio of Leafs games to Kamloops Blazer games, I know which I'd choose.)
Now, the 'big league' sports argument, under the right circumstances (penant race, etc.), I'll buy that. The problem? I was five years old when the example you're citing went down.
That's an awful long wait for something to do!
I don't mean to put down Toronto, 'cause I love it here, but there's absolutely no reason why they can't support junior hockey. Vancouver and Calgary are two of the best drawing junior cities in Canada.
Good points. The box is still open on this. Matter of fact, it's always open. And it's not just junior hockey. Monday, I was up at Humber to watch U of T Blues beat visiting U.S. school Mercyhurst in a preseason game. This on the same weekend that national champion Carleton lost by a point to top U.S. school Louisville in another tuneup that you never heard about -- but there was plenty of coverage here of NCAA champion Florida trouncing Brock, wasn't there?