The FIFA Women’s World Cup started with a cloud of negativity surrounding Montreal and the Olympic Stadium after Group E action between Costca Rica, Spain, Brazil and the Korea Republic kicked off in front of dismal and embarrassing crowds. The media was blasting the tournament’s organizers for naming the Big O the Montreal venue over it’s next door neighbour, the outdoor Saputo Stadium. Seven games later at the giant, white stadium, the criticism was much ado about nothing. The crowds in Montreal were numerous and fantastic- for the more important games- and proved why FIFA had chosen the indoor stadium with artificial turf to host the prestigious tournament.
Tickets for the first two games in Group E were sold in dual games- a ticket to the matinee Spain-Korea game would allow access to the night Brazil-Korea match-up. Only 10175 people bought tickets to watch soccer on a Tuesday afternoon at 4pm and stay to watch another game at 7pm. Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette scolded the absence of people in the white elephant and suggested that they should have played at the neighbouring field, Saputo Stadium, which only holds 20000 people compared to the nearly 60000 at the Olympic Stadium, and features real grass.
Let’s look at the situation and calendar of events in Montreal from that prior week. Oh, look! Formula One came to town and hosted the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve two days prior to the opening game in Montreal. Montrealers emptied their wallets for weekend festivities and tickets to the event. What happens when one clears their wallet of money? They must go to work. When does the average person work? From 9am to 5pm. When was the first soccer game held at the Big O? At 4pm, on a Tuesday! Now we know why nobody cared to show up! Ticket prices weren’t cheap, ranging from $28.25 to $87 for the double header prices. Any average Joe that likely spent $100-$200 on a weekend of partying in downtown Montreal to celebrate the Grand Prix and the start of summer would have likely not missed work to spend that sort of money.
The following Saturday, the same group was in action with the same ticket options and prices. This time, 28263 people filled both games, and the crowd mainly consisted of families with young girls. This turn out was a respectable number, considering the dry atmosphere that watching sports in the Big O brings, especially on a warm Saturday afternoon.
Two nights later, team Canada made their trip to town and played to a 1-1 draw in front of 45420 cheering Canadians. I even managed to grab hold of a ticket and was surprised of the atmosphere and the demographic that attended. A lot of local girls soccer teams bought group packs to watch their heroes play. I was also at the Big O when the Impact played in the CONCACAF Champions League semi-final and final in the spring, with 38000 and 60000 others in attendance, respectively, but the World Cup game provided an even better atmosphere. The crowd was jolly and loud and still went home with a smile despite the fact that the host country’s team drew after letting a defensive breakdown lead to a goal in the 87th minute.
Crowds of 13862 and 15518 passed through the gates in the next two games at the stadium before the best crowds for non-Canadian games turned up in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. 24859 people got the chance to see some of the world’s best when France lost to Germany in a penalty shoot out after an exciting 120 minutes of soccer. The biggest crowd was a bit of a surprise as 51176 made the trip down to watch Germany take on the U.S. in the semi-final on Tuesday. Most of the crowd was American, and there was a reported three hour wait at one Canadian-American border just a few hours south of Montreal.
In all, the average attendance for the nine games was 25383, which is not bad at all for a city that spends some of the highest taxes in Canada and just dispensed money into Formula One. This shows that we aren’t the brightest of spenders, as we sell out an arena in a league that locks out every few years, the NHL, and get excited over annual events from two of the most allegedly corrupt organizations in the world, FIFA and F1.
Since March, the stadium has seen some of the biggest crowds in the city’s sports history. Between the 96000 that flocked into the Big O for a pair of MLB exhibition games, the 170000 plus fans from the Impact’s four games there and the 228000 fans that attended the World Cup, the Olympic Stadium drew nearly 500000 people in 2015, alone.
This stadium might be useful for some big events, after all. The Olympic Stadium was a great host during the World Cup and it proved everybody wrong, this white elephant can still attract fans for sporting events and was worth the selection to host the event.