Ice hockey is attracting record crowds in Finland - but not everywhere
Friday's announcement in Helsingin Sanomat (see linked article - the news has since been confirmed, with the additional information that the entire stadium pitch will be relaid before the summer) to the effect that the ice hockey "Winter Classic" would after all be going ahead in the Olympic Stadium, despite the serious misgivings of the Finnish Football Association, was in its own small way an indicator of the differing fortunes of the two sports on these shores.
The Olympic Stadium can accommodate more than 35,000 spectators.
That's how it goes: when the popularity increases, bigger venues are needed.
Naturally the stadium event is an exception and a one-off, but ice hockey does seem to interest Finnish sports enthusiasts more and more.
A couple of days ago the SM-Liiga, Finland’s premier ice hockey league, announced that the early autumn audience figures have grown by five per cent compared to the start of the season last year.
This season an average attendance figure of 5,001 has been recorded for the SM-Liiga games. Last autumn’s corresponding figure was 4,719.
Especially in the capital Helsinki, ice hockey is a proper spectator sport. The trailblazer is Jokerit, a team that is strong on the ice as well as on the bleachers.
So far the team’s seven home games have attracted an average crowd of 10,098 spectators. This translates to a growth figure of more than 30 per cent compared to a year ago, when Jokerit admittedly struggled to make much impression on the league.
“Finland’s World Championship from last spring must have sparked an ice hockey boom of a sort”, Jokerit forward Jani Rita reckons.
This is Rita’s sixth consecutive and ninth overall season with Jokerit. There have been quieter times in the home arena, he acknowledges freely.
“This autumn we’ve had good games and the home crowd has really got behind us”, says winger Rita, who has produced eight goals so far this season.
As the accompanying tables confirm, several clubs are running above their budgeted attendance figures, but the rush of spectators to watch ice hockey is nevertheless not being enjoyed everywhere.
Espoo Blues are an OK team playing in an OK arena in a large city in the south, but their average attendance at home games has been only 3,170, or more than a thousand fans below what had been budgeted for.
Even so, in Finnish terms if we look at the football clubs alongside the hockey teams, Espoo Blues are a veritable crowd magnet: for the sake of comparison, on the football side this season’s runaway League Champions HJK of Helsinki have only managed to pull in an average crowd of 3,738 spectators per game.
The average spectator figure per match for the entire Veikkausliiga, the country’s top football division, was a mere 2,206.
Fewer than a thousand people bothered to turn up to watch bottom-placed Rovaniemi Palloseura beat TPS of Turku 3-1 on Sunday, and even the local derby between Honka of Espoo and HJK (with Honka still looking for a place in the top three) only drew just over 3,000.
More on this subject:
Average home attendances for SM-Liiga teams, and budgeted figures for the 2011/12 season
Previously in HS International Edition:
"Winter Classic" ice hockey project back on track after all (14.10.2011)