As hockey fans, we all know that while we enjoy seeing the game, there's always restraint for embracing the pre-season. The European Trophy may be an unique concept, something tangible to play for before the regular season starts, but it's still pre-season hockey. But don't tell that to the fans that came out Wednesday night to see Alder Mannheim host HIFK Helsinki. All 10,157 of them.
German fans really seem to be embracing the conept. Attendance has been pretty mediocre in Finland and Sweden, though some of that is due to the size of the arenas they're playing in. Still, 3000 fans per game was considered very good in the opening week. Turku, who drew audiences of over 10,000 for their title run last spring, has been hovering around 2000 fans per game after completing their home schedule last night. So it's not a matter of whether the teams are any good, or whether there is a market there, it's how fans view this tournament.
In Bern, the club is not using the massive PostFinance Arena, but the smaller Schoren Arena outside the city, which seats less than a thousand (though has standing room to bring capacity over 4000). They drew just 520 for last night's game against Malmo. This is from the fanbase that draws over 16,000 on average during the NLA season, leading Europe. Surely the alternate site idea will be looked at more closely in the future... by holding the event there, they are essentially telling their fans the tournament is second rate. Meanwhile, Tesla Arena in Prague must have been a quiet place for Sparta Praha's 5-1 win over Farjestads BK, as only 1423 people filed through the gates of the over 14,000 seat arena.
It's the first run of the tournament, and so the negative has to be taken with a grain of salt. It's possible this event can generate more interest once they've done a once-through and figure out what works and what doesn't. But clearly, German fans continue to show a strong affinity for their teams. For European hockey to become big business, Germany will have to become one of the prime focus areas. Hopefully for this tournament's sake, both Mannheim and Berlin make the Salute Invitational playoffs in Salzburg. They can guarantee a lot of fan support that way.
Attendance stats can be looked at here.