A few thoughts about the Juniors as a franchise

Saturday, October 24, 2009

If EP could single-handedly finance this team to keep it in Montreal, she would

So Grrreg was asking about the team. Mainly about our fans, the prices and all that jazz because he heard that major junior teams tend to fail here and it got me thinking that I really should write something up about this seemingly obscure team that I seem to have an affinity for.

Let me start off by saying that major junior teams do NOT do well in Montreal. We have had seven franchises here (not including the ones in Laval and Longeuil) over the years and all of them have failed. The most recent team we had was the Montreal Rocket and they left in 2003 to become the PEI Rocket.

Why have all the teams failed in a city that is so obviously obsessed with hockey?

I think it's probably because with a city that is so obsessed with the Canadiens, there is no room for another hockey team. In Montreal, we hold NHL hockey as the pinnacle of all hockey and everything else isn't worth watching. You see it time and time again about the AHL. "Oh it's just minor hockey. It's not worth my time." Here, the only hockey (err the only SPORT) that matters is the Canadiens, so it's difficult to get another team in there.

I think - and I don't know if this is true but I'm guessing anyway - that the previous QMJHL franchises here didn't try to market their team as a separate and distinct product. With the Q, you have something totally different from the NHL. If you just try to market it as just another hockey team, then you're sunk. You  need to raise the differences and admit that it's a different type of hockey.

Speaking about the Juniors specifically... I think thus far (and they're only in their second season) they've done a good job in promoting their team as something different. This isn't NHL hockey, but you're seeing future NHLers here. You're seeing kids who have either been drafted or will be drafted by the NHL. This obvious includes future Habs in Lefebvre and Dumont (the only prospects that the Habs have in the Q. Unless Avtsin would like to play for the Juniors next year).

We have a decent amount of fans. I think during the week there's an average of a 1000 or so. Not bad for a building that only holds about 5000 to begin with. There are definitely more people on Friday nights (I have yet to go for a weekend afternoon game so I'm not sure what the attendance is like then). A minor "problem" that I have seen is that if a team with at least a few players from Montreal come to play, their family and friends tend to pile in and take over the building. I don't have a problem with them coming, but I think it shows that the Juniors still need to work to build up their own fanbase (think it if almost like when the Habs go to play the Bolts/Panthers during the holidays. Maybe it's not THAT bad but, it's sorta like that sometimes).

I think there's two issues that could stand in the way for the Juniors right now. The first is their location. While Verdun is close to downtown Montreal, it has a reputation for being a tough neighborhood. It's cleaned up a lot in recent years, but it's still a very working class area. Now, really, there isn't anything wrong with that. I've never encountered a problem in the area when I've been there for games. But I have come out of a game once and walked by the police handling a domestic violence dispute. It wasn't pleasant. Not that everything is all great downtown, but when things like that happen, it doesn't help Verdun's image. I think there is still a bit of a stigma against the area. Not great if you're trying to pull in people not from the area itself.

The second is ticket prices. Compared to what we're used to with the Canadiens, the ticket prices for the Juniors are cheap. Starting at $15, it's a good deal. Except the problem is that's the starting price. The highest priced tickets go for around $50 dollars. This is WAY more than just about every other team in the entire CHL. Most CHL teams' tickets range from 15 to 20 dollars.  When  you're in an arena of working class families charging $50 for VIP seats is ridiculous because 1) there is no such thing as a bad seat in that building so designating a few seats around the player's benches as "VIP" is silly. Exactly why would I pay $50 to look at the back of Joel Bouchard's head during a game? Seriously. 2) they don't actually enforce the seating. So you can pay $50 for a seat and then realize that "oops, I could have paid $15 and moved over to the same "VIP" seat later".

Obviously getting a good team on the ice would go a long way to getting more attention, but that's not really the Juniors fault. It's hard to manage a major junior team. Players move around a lot more, they have limitations based on age and nationality. Player leave do to lack of interest. But the Juniors aren't especially awful. They're a good - albeit quite young - bunch of guys.

I think there is a place for major junior hockey in Montreal. It's a really different experience. I find it a lot more "fun" in general than watching the Habs. It's great to be in the Bell Centre (there's nothing more awesome than being in there when the crowd is in a good mood). From personal experience, I find the guys in the Q more enthusiastic in general than NHLers. The crowds are smaller but generally are pretty noisy. The atmosphere is definitely a lot more laid back the NHL There is no "I paid 200 + dollars to see you play so don't play like a zombie" attitude. The kids generally try their hardest out there. It's a totally unique experience and I really hope that the Juniors can survive here because I will definitely continue to go watch them.

That went on longer than I anticipated and maybe it wasn't quite what you were asking about Grrreg, but umm, yeah...


Grrrreg said...

Nice! I waited until this morning to read your post and to comment on it.

It's really interesting. I definitely understand how the atmosphere must be more laidback. It must also feel like there is much more proximity with the team. Especially if you can spot their friends and families in the crowd.

I'm surprised the tickets are expensive like that. I'm sure they've done some market surveys before, so it must somehow make sense economically, but 50$ seems like a lot of money for junior hockey.

But I really understand how you can become a fan: it must be a refreshing way to enjoy hockey. Away from the media, the ads, the money and the big show, it must be a much more intimate experience. I hope the Juniors will build their own fanbase and be more successful than their predecessors!

Number31 said...

If Avtsin does come over, I'll be there. (Though if Berube takes over as the #1 next year...eek)! Weekends though. I can't get to Verdun after work... I can barely get to St-Henri after work when we play in the community center there. That whole Sud-Ouest area is like this weird close-to-downtown but totally cut off kind of blackhole! And I almost moved there, but it smells bad in the summer.

Eternal Pessimist said...

Grrrreg - The price issue really must be addressed. I think it's one of the main obstacles that can be fixed fairly easily. For me, I just pay $15 and move to a better seat later (and really, I only move because it's better for taking pictures. There really isn't any such thing as a bad seat if you're just going to go and cheer for the team).

It's a great experience though. Like you said, it's a totally more laid back and intimate feel. Last year they were saying how accessible the players were too (Personally, I dont' go up to people for autographs but I see the little kids lining up near the benches all the time).

It's a really nice way to enjoy hockey if you're like me and get annoyed with the media madhouse that surrounds the Habs every now and then. It's good hockey and the whole atmosphere is just really nice.

Number31 - Berube makes me nervous... He has a nice feel-good story and all that, but he has a lot of work to do.

And yeah, I know what you mean about that whole area. It's kinda weird.... I always get lost in there (I'm very fortunate that the Juniors are right next to the metro stop).

The Juniors really need to be in a location that actually feels like it's not in the middle of nowhere.

Grrrreg said...

Getting a few habs prospects like Avtsin could probably help them to get more people interested. And once those people come to watch the Juniors play, some of them will stay.

Eternal Pessimist said...

Oh I think getting Avtsin to play here will definitely generate a lot of interest. We really need to convince him to play here.

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