Will hockey in Finland survive as the country will?
Finland is celebrating 100 years this year as an independent country, which makes for a lot of events during the year in Finland and the diaspora.
The actual day when the declaration of independence was announced, 6th December 1917, is an emotional day for me, the undersigned, and I always take a moment to think back to all the stories from older relatives who fought for their survival and for an independent country.
Although, when we talk about the latter, I am more grateful that they survived because I became aware early during my childhood that my generation and the following were one bullet, one bomb away for not being here at all. I get chills when I think about it.
The culture in Finland, if we look from other perspectives, is quite amusing. There is the sauna culture, which is basically a synonym for Finland. You never have to worry wherever you go if you will find a sauna or not because there is always one sauna close to you. It might be built in a trailer, in an abandoned car or even in an old telephone box. As long as you can get some sort of heat over 70+ Celsius degrees, it will do perfectly as ever.
Don’t be surprised if you find the animals in the sauna as well, like a big bear. Or a tiny sauna for squirrels…
Then we have something that is actually older than the country itself, the tango culture. It is said that the tango was introduced at the Apollo Theatre in Helsinki in the year of 1913 by two dancers and right after that the tango spread over the entire country, from Helsinki to the smallest village with two people.
Every year there is a huge tango festival in the town of Seinäjoki, where they crown the best tango singer of the year. The show is broadcast of course and engages the whole country. I love and listen to tango myself because I love the music and it is also a big part of my heritage as a Finn.
Don’t be surprised if you find two bears dancing their version of the tango in the woods…
Yet, we have the great sport of hockey to bring up.
Hockey is still, without doubt, the number one sport in Finland. But it has also changed a lot in the last 20-30 years. Most organizations who run a team at the highest division, the Finnish Liiga, are struggling today with the attendance numbers.
Some of the reasons are the basic private economy in parity with the price of the tickets, as it is a dear cost for a whole family to spend money on a single hockey game. Not to talk about a whole season.
I am sure that many want to go to the venue and see the games live, so to say, but are forced to choose to stay at home and watch the games on TV or streams at a much lower cost than going to the venue.
Left are the hard-core fans who spend most of their wages on the live games, but they don’t fill the arenas to the brim always.
In the end, it means that the venues have a full attendance only occasionally, which causes major or minor economic trouble to the organizations. It is however quite bothersome.
And, they can’t go back either too much to the older days when the players had less salary than they have today.
On the other hand, Finland is still producing upcoming prospects and has nothing to worry about the coming 10-15 years.
But when Laine, Puljujärvi, Määttä, Barkov etc. are gone, then what?
As we know, things change, nothing is for certain and one must be awake all the time to follow the movements, otherwise one perishes (figuratively).
My thoughts for the Finnish domestic and national hockey is the following:
Are the hockey association and the organizations awake enough and looking ahead to the future by being present enough in the now?
Somehow I feel that there is a need of a revival of the hockey in Finland, in order to get the crowd back to the venues, make the games into event fans really want to attend etc.
Most of all, a clear vision is required.
The country of Finland will endure another 100 years with all its peculiar phenomena, but how about hockey, will it survive as the country will?
Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistence.
-Daniel Burnham, an architect 1846-1912
Sulo Karjalainen, called the bear man, passed away for some time ago. A remarkable man and lover of nature and the bears.