PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 11: Opening face off of team Canada against team France during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Secondary attendance among best ever
Let’s face it. It’s tough to think of Paris as a “secondary” anything.
It is the tourist capital of the world, a city of culture and cuisine, art and history, champagne and fine dining. It is the city of the Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees.
Paris takes a back seat to no other city on earth.
But in the hockey world, France is smaller than the top six, small enough that it hasn’t hosted the World Championship since 1951. Small enough that it partnered with Cologne for the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship to get world-class ice hockey back to the City of Lights.
Fans in Cologne were exceptional. We knew that; we expected that. But the fan support in Paris was something to behold given France’s status as a lower-tier top- division team.
But the numbers are in, and the numbers are good. Very good.
France hosted 30 of the 64 games at the 2017 Worlds and attracted a total of 223,956 fans. This worked out to an average of 7,465 per game.
What does that mean? Some context. Only twice in the last two decades has the second venue attracted more spectators. In Ostrava in 2015, some 234,490 fans attended the 30 games, and in 2001, in Cologne and Nuremburg, 257,530 fans went through the turnstiles. In the latter case, tough, that number was achieved in 34 games.
The 7,465 Paris average was also among the top number of the last 20 years. Ostrava, of course, averaged slightly more (7,816).
The 2008 Worlds in Halifax was highly successful (8,117, during the IIHF’s Centennial and first ever visit to Canada for the World Championship), and the aforementioned 2001 in Cologne and Nuremburg (7,574) also bested Paris.
In short, though, Paris in 2017 was right in the mix as arguably the most successful second-venue hosts in IIHF history.
Highlights? There were many. At the top of the list has to be the sold-out crowd of 14,510 that watched France push Canada to the limit. Yes, Canada won. That was expected. But the 3-2 scoreline was closer than what one might have expected. It was a game to remember, a highlight of the tournament, for sure.
Impressively, Canada averaged more fans per game than France, a testament to the long-established reputation Canada has built up in Europe, from the first Olympics in 1920 to the first World Championship in 1930, and down through the decades of success.
In all, there were seven games in Paris that attracted more than 10,000 fans. That was also a significant marker. The Czech, Swiss, and Finnish fans were incredible, chanting and cheering every game and filling the AccorHotels Arena with a true hockey atmosphere seldom seen in France’s premier city.
France came close, but ultimately failed to qualify for the quarter-finals. Its last game of the round robin, a win against Slovenia, was also the final career games for goaltender Cristobal Huet and long-time captain Laurent Meunier. Their farewell was memorable, tear-inducing, and well deserved.
France has been in the top division for a decade. Next year it will host two second-tier tournaments, the Division I Group A in the U20 category in Courchevel and Meribel and in the women’s category Strasbourg. This year was a massive success.
The only question left is not if but when does the IIHF return to Paris for another top-level event?