Canadians And The World Junior Hockey Championship: A Love Story

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BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 05: Alex Formenton #24 of Canada celebrates his empty net goal which sealed a 3-1 win for Canada during the third period of play in the IIHF World Junior Championships Gold Medal game at KeyBank Center on January 5, 2018 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Nicholas T. LoVerde/Getty Images)

The World Junior Hockey Championship is a tournament held every holiday season which showcases some of hockey’s best prospects. Fans across the country of Canada mark the tournament’s start date down on their calendars and wait in anticipation. When Boxing Day rolls around, Canadians turn the tube to TSN. They prepare to watch as a young group of teenagers take to the ice to defend Canada’s pride against “the world”. As they burst into joy, other countries seem to roll their eyes. Which begs the question: why is it that this tournament is so big in Canada but not in other countries?

Canadians and The World Junior Hockey Championship

If one lives in The Great White North, they know Bell’s TSN is a mainstay for sports fans. As of recently, Rogers Sportsnet has come into the picture and has signed a major TV deal with the NHL. They have the monopoly on broadcasting NHL games nationally. TSN still manages to compete with the ability to broadcast the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators games on a regular basis.

TSN’s bread and butter these days is other sports coverage, like football. As well as side events like the World Juniors, UFC cards and more. In other words, they are the Canadian version of ESPN. Minus NFL insider Adam Schefter and plus hockey wiz Bob McKenzie. Hockey coverage is their focal point and everything else comes after. TSN also gives the Canadian Football League a big push as well.

Starting from a humble beginning, TSN was the first all-sports network in Canada. TSN kicked off their network around the time as the inception of the 24-hour news network  Cable News Network (CNN). TV executives were wary of these said networks given their concept and their need to fill a 24-hour news channel with content. Whether this was sports or otherwise. Both networks ended up getting their break. CNN’s break was their coverage of The Gulf Wars. TSN’s was when they became the first national cable broadcaster of the NHL in Canada.

Roughly 25 years later and TSN is still going strong, even if they lost their NHL broadcasting rights. TSN has learned to grow with time and they created new ways to keep their network running strong. Que in the World Juniors.

The Tournament’s Promotion In Canada

Bell Media and TSN like to put a lot of money towards their coverage of the World Junior Hockey Championship. Over the past few years, they have sunk more dough into their promotional campaigns than ever before. This is because viewership of the tournament has been growing. It has become easier for all parties involved to gain access to more sponsorship deals. As well as more mainstream media attention, at least in Canada.

Some may argue that this model resembles that of the major broadcasters of American College Football. Those broadcasters being FOX, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN. These networks are able to cash in big time on games like the Rose Bowl and rivalry games like Army versus Navy, Alabama versus Auburn etcetera.

To a much lesser extent, TSN looks to do the same thing with Canada’s big rivalry games. Like the usual intense battles between Canada and the United States on New Year’s Eve. Although TSN might not pull in the big names like Bud Light and Allstate, they still get their fair share of sponsors like Esso, Nike, Canadian Tire, Tim Horton’s and more. Allowing them to make some coin off the games they broadcast while putting a pretty penny into their commercials. Here are some examples below:

The numbers don’t lie

One of TSN’s underrated accomplishments is how they turned a small junior hockey tournament into must-see TV. The tournament started off by fetching a small viewership. As the years started to pass and TSN started to promote the tournament more and more, it became somewhat of a monster.

According to TSN.ca, the 2015 World Juniors gold medal game was watched by more than  7.1 million Canadians on TSN (6 million) and the French channel RDS (1.13 million), making it the most-watched broadcast on record on specialty television in Canada. The Canada-Russia game’s average audience was 6% higher than the 2011 Gold Medal Game (6.7 million viewers on TSN and RDS). Overall, 13.4 million unique Canadian viewers tuned in to watch Team Canada reclaim World Junior gold.

This was a high point in the tournament’s history. In comparison, Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks averaged 9.2 million Canadian viewers with 12.2 million Canadians tuning in to watch Katy Perry’s halftime performance.

Breaking the fourth wall for a second, it’s very impressive that a junior hockey tournament can even come close to competing with the mecca of sporting events that is the SUPER BOWL. Also known as the most watched sporting event of the year. A game starring the “Legion of Boom” as well as one of the best to ever hit the gridiron, Tom Brady. A game that was so close that it came down to the last play with a rather unfortunate ending for Seattle. According to Bell Media, this was also a record breaker.

In 2017, according to Bell Media, the gold medal game was watched by more than 11 million Canadians, the biggest since 2015.

The reaction

Here’s what the higher-ups had to say about the game’s viewership:

“Team Canada’s gold medal performance at the World Juniors has once again inspired fans across the country, and this massive audience demonstrates that fan engagement in the tournament has reached staggering new heights,” said Stewart Johnston, President of TSN. “Everyone at TSN is so proud to showcase the drama and excitement of this incredible tournament for viewers in Canada and around the world.”

“This IIHF World Junior Championship proved once again the passion Canadians have for hockey, and for this tournament.” Said Tom Renney, president and chief executive officer of Hockey Canada. “We are extremely proud of the work TSN and RDS did this year in Toronto and Montréal, and have done over the last 25 years. The networks have played an integral role in growing the World Juniors into the holiday tradition it has become, and we are thrilled to continue to strengthen our partnership with Canada’s Sports Leaders.”

Where else does this tournament get attention?

The weird thing about all this is that the tournament does not have that much success internationally. That’s not to say that it does not get attention. In Sweden, their local network hypes it. In the States, it gets some attention, but Canada is where the tournament thrives, seemingly getting more and more attention.

Why do Canadians love this tournament so?

Last Word On Hockey’s Christian Holmes took to the streets of Toronto to ask what the World Juniors meant to people. Canadian pride seemed to be the overwhelming answers:

“My family grew up on hockey,” said Kitchener native Jenny S. “If we weren’t watching the Leafs game or whatever was on the CBC, we would be at the Aud taking in a Kitchener Rangers game. My dad loved junior hockey and when Boxing Day came around, you knew that he’d have the channel on TSN watching the World Juniors. To me, the tournament meant spending quality time with my dad and my brothers. To this day, we still try to get together to take in the gold medal game.”

Welcome to Canada

To 22-year-old Ahmed and his family, watching the World Juniors was how he was introduced to hockey. He was shown the welcoming Canadian spirit after he and his family fled a war torn from Afghanistan:

“I’ve never seen a hockey game before in my life. Coming to Canada, we knew of snow and maple syrup and hockey too. Then one night when my family and I went out for dinner, on one of the TVs in the restaurant they had the Canada-Russia semi-finals game on. Canada was trailing with half a minute left and everyone was depressed but still hopeful. I remember my sister was ordering her meal and that’s around the time Jordan Eberle took the puck and deked out the Russian player,” Ahmed said. “As soon as the puck went in the net, the place went insane and everyone was high-fiving each other. We were kind of just sitting there not knowing what was going on and this one older gentleman in a Canada sweater came to our table and said at the top of his lungs, ‘We’re going to overtime, baby!’

“Then his wife came and introduced herself. They were some of the first people we met and befriended. After Canada won the game in the shootout, they paid for our meal and showed us around Toronto. To this day, my family still gets together with those two to take in the World Juniors,” Ahmed said with a smile.

Why is it that the World Juniors are so big in Canada?

Canada has always been celebrated for its diverse culture. In a sense, everyone is different and its the eagerness to be as one that seems to bring people together. One thing that brings Canadians together as one time and time again has always been hockey and cheering for Team Canada. Whether that’s at the Olympics, World Juniors or Spangler Cup, it brings the best out of a nation with people looking for a place to make things happen, a group of people cheering for one common cause and for the pride of all. Maybe it’s that notion which makes this tournament so big?

Winston S. Churchill said it the best: “When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.”

That’s Canadians and the World Juniors: a true love story

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Christian Holmes is a senior writer for Grandstand Central, as well as an editor for Last Word On Hockey. Holmesy, as he is known by his peers, works to facilitate intimate one-on-one conversations with some of the most interesting personalities in sports. Not to mention, Holmes does also have a keen eye for writing powerful and thought-provoking stories as proven by his story about his lifelong love affair with hockey being published in TSN Hockey Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie’s and sports writer Jim Lang’s new book entitled "Everyday Hockey Heroes: Inspirational Stories On and Off The Ice". If you’re looking for a good laugh or even to learn a thing or two about life, you can follow him on Twitter below.

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