Hockey fans from around the world are expected to come to the World Junior Championship later this month in Buffalo.
But surprisingly, one group is coming in fewer numbers – the Canadians.
Canadians bought 60 percent of the tickets when Buffalo hosted the 2010-11 World Juniors. This tournament, Canadians account for 35 percent of ticket sales with one week to go.
Some 10,000 ticket packages for all the games were sold in 2010-11.
"Now, we have about one-third of that number sold," said Michael Gilbert, Buffalo Sabres senior vice president and HarborCenter general manager.
The 11-day tournament involving 10 international hockey teams opens in Buffalo on Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 5.
A ticket package for all 31 games sells for $1,550.
"We're disappointed with the advance ticket sales," Gilbert said.
Gilbert said he is encouraged by a spike in sales over the past week.
"We are hoping the trending continues upward," he said.
The games will feature the top players under age 20 from North America and Europe. The Sabres will host games at KeyBank Center and the adjacent HarborCenter. One game – billed as "United States versus Canada" – will be played at New Era Field at 3 p.m. Dec. 29.
Groupon currently offers $65 face-value tickets for $35 for the New Era Field game.
The drop-off in Canadian ticket sales could be because the games were held in Southern Ontario two of the last three years. Ticket prices were higher at those tournaments than the Buffalo games, Gilbert said.
The low exchange rate for the Canadian dollar could also be a factor. That wasn't as much of a factor seven years ago.
More availability of individual game tickets on secondary ticket markets is another change from when Buffalo last hosted the World Junior Championship. That has undercut the appeal of the 31-game ticket package, which guarantees a chance to see all of the most in-demand games, Gilbert said.
Whatever the reasons, the Sabres and the IIHF are trying to compensate by adding individual tickets earlier than before and two additional ticket packages priced at $1,265 and $690, respectively.
The event is expected to be a boon to downtown hotels and restaurants, with thousands of room reservations at a time of the year when business is typically slow.
All 10 teams from the United States, Canada, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland will stay at downtown hotels.
In addition to the teams, others who will stay at hotels include referees, tournament officials, family members and out-of-town fans.
"We're hearing from other hotels that they're happy," said Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara. "It's not meeting all their expectations, but this would typically be a slow period of time, and they are thrilled with the business they are getting at this point."
Kaler said the 8,300 room nights booked for the teams alone represents a $7 million regional impact.
"The World Juniors are fantastic, and selling out," said Wendy Clubine of Buffalo Lodging Associates, whose holdings include the downtown Hampton Inn and Suites, Courtyard by Marriott at Canalside, Hampton Inn Buffalo Airport and Courtyard Buffalo Airport.
"They are even affecting our airport hotels. I could not be happier, and the game at New Era Field is selling out the hotels like wildfire," Clubine said. "This will also have an impact on all the restaurants sometimes for as much as a week before they come in."
Mark Croce, who owns the new Curtiss Hotel, said he hasn't seen many reservations for the World Junior Championship games.
"This was touted as a big deal, and we expected it to have an impact," Croce said. "We thought we would see a lot of movement, and we have not. There has not been the strong push everyone told us to anticipate."
Croce said he was hopeful there would be a last-minute push, but he also recognized visitors might be looking for less-expensive places to stay rather than a high-end hotel.
The World Juniors will also capitalize on the growth of the nearby waterfront, with public skating at the Ice at Canalside and other events.
Championship Village will open at 3 p.m. Friday.
The "Snowzilla" snow ramp – 40 feet high and 70 feet long – will offer free public sledding.
A glass-enclosed pavilion, 51 feet by 131 feet, will offer protection from cold and snow and include a bar and stage for live events.
Teams will move into their locker rooms Sunday, with the first team practice sessions starting at 9 a.m. Christmas Day. The first game – between the Czech Republic and Russia at KeyBank Center – will begin at noon Dec. 26. The opening ceremony will begin at 8 p.m. that night. The gold medal game will be played Jan. 5.
Seven games will be played at HarborCenter, with 23 games at KeyBank Center and the U.S.-Canada game at New Era Field.
Additionally, some teams will play pre-tournament exhibition games in several areas, including Jamestown; Erie, Pa.; and Niagara Falls, Ont.
TSN in Canada will broadcast all 31 games as part of its comprehensive World Juniors coverage.
"We're still optimistic that things are going to pick up in the next 10 days," Gilbert said. "This area always comes together. We think it's a great event for the city, and hopefully the weather will cooperate and we'll have a wonderful event."