The shadow of scandal hangs over the World Junior Championships set to start in Edmonton next week.
Last year’s competition shared between Red Deer and Edmonton was shut down mid-event, with the players returning home after three games were forfeited in two days because of COVID-19 cases among players.
Despite the tournament starting Aug. 9 and being played at Rogers Place exclusively, United Cycle told CTV News Edmonton it still has plenty of merchandise on its shelves.
“I know as a kid growing up here. It’s Dec. 26; it’s Boxing Day. That’s the kick-off to the World Juniors,” said Kelly Hodgson, United Cycle operations manager.
Ticketmaster shows hundreds of tickets still available for several matches.
“There’s a lot of things working against the tournament right now, whereas usually it’s sold out and very successful financially,” said Dan Mason, University of Alberta sports marketing professor.
“The World Juniors are a cultural institution at Christmas time,” Mason added. “They’ve kind of evolved over the past 30 years or so to become this thing that people get into over the holiday break with their families.”
“The fact that it’s being held in the summer, I think, is the most critical issue that they’re facing right now because people have their plans for summer, and they’re not thinking about hockey.”
The other major factor is the sexual assault allegations plaguing Hockey Canada. The national organization had its funding from the federal government, and corporate sponsors paused following sexual assault allegations involving eight members of the 2018 men’s junior hockey team.
Those allegations came to light after it was reported that Hockey Canada paid out an undisclosed settlement to the complainant — who was seeking $3.55 million — after she sued the organization, the Canadian Hockey League, and the eight unnamed players.
Additionally, Hockey Canada confirmed it maintained a fund drawing on minor hockey membership fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including misconduct claims. The national hockey organization says it will no longer use that fund to pay for claims over sexual assault allegations.
Locally, Explore Edmonton says it has “paused” promoting this year’s championship event, despite the city playing host to the tournament.
“We continue to have discussions with Hockey Canada officials about their plans to address the need for change,” said Traci Bednard, Explore Edmonton CEO, in a statement.
The organization still plans to perform an economic impact study after the tournament ends.
Typically, world junior events hosted in Canada were seen as a surefire investment by Hockey Canada and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), Mason said.
With an independent review of Hockey Canada’s governance looming, Mason says ticket sales may be impacted.
“Obviously, there’s going to be an impact on people who are disgruntled or affected by the issues facing Hockey Canada,” he said. “We know that Hockey Canada is trying to address the issues from a systemic point of view and a case point of view, but obviously, we don’t know if there’s more things we could learn moving forward.”
Still, there are some fans eager to watch the best junior hockey players in the world play in person.
“This is a hockey town,” Hodgson added. “I know that when something hockey-related, especially something of this magnitude, happens here in our marketplace, I expect the interest to grow.”
Action beings next Tuesday at noon, with Czechia and Slovakia opening Group A play. The United States and Germany open Group B later that evening at 8 p.m.
Canada’s first puck drop will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday against Latvia.
With files from The Canadian Press