Junior Hockey World Cup: A lack of hype, activities, and missed opportunity

Malaysia is known for hockey, yet the sport has not been able to attract big crowds in the ongoing Junior World Cup.

Held at the National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, the international tournament is played in near-empty stands, with hardly any excitement inside, and outside the venue.

It will be bleaker after Australia beat Malaysia 5-2 yesterday. The defeat meant that the Young Tigers will miss out on a place in the quarterfinals and will now enter the playoffs for the ninth to 16th positions. The tournament ends on Dec 16.

Perhaps it is time for the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) and its sponsors – and other national sports associations (NSAs) – to study how the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) and Petronas made the Malaysia Open an “event not to be missed”, over the past two years.

BAM and the national petroleum company are good at generating powerful fan engagements. This has fuelled interest in the event, and created a sense of belonging. As a result, more people are following the Malaysia Open, which has translated into more ticket sales and an increase in the sales of all supporting services and products.

It is estimated that the 2022 Malaysia Open generated at least RM20 million in transactions.

Tickets sold like hotcakes, and there were tonnes of activities outside the Axiata Arena in Bukit Jalil, including food trucks, face painting booths, and live music at night.

Badminton fans who could not get tickets, could watch the matches on giant screens outside the stadium and “be a part” of the tournament, as they could hear the cheers from inside the Axiata Arena.

Many non-badminton fans flocked to the venue to hang out.

For the Junior World Cup, there is no income from ticket sales. Entrance is free, and that should have been a bonus and a way to entice non-hockey fans to the venue. Sadly, not many knew about the tournament.

The government’s Malaysia Madani ‘One Year Anniversary Programme’, which started on Friday, is also being held near the hockey stadium.

Granted yesterday was a working day, but it still didn’t stop people from heading to the National Stadium hours before the 9pm final and for the government programme.

Several vendors were surprised to hear about the hockey tournament and were shocked to learn that it was the Junior World Cup.

Football fans, who came for the Malaysia Cup final last night, and those who came for the three-day government event, were also unaware of the junior hockey meet.

Several dozen Terengganu FC and Johor Darul Ta’zim fans, loitering around the area, decided to watch the Malaysia-Australia match yesterday at 2pm, seven hours before the Malaysia Cup final. One fan was thankful to enter the stadium, as he needed to use the restroom.

The football fans helped liven up the stadium, and the ‘Ultras Bukit Jalil’ made plenty of noise with their drums.

There were booths outside the stadium selling hockey paraphernalia and drinks, and two F&B trucks today – one, a coffee specialist, and the other, selling chicken rice, other dishes, and drinks.

There were hardly any customers at the F&B area at the National Hockey Stadium yesterday. Image: Graig Nunis / Twentytwo13

Those old enough to remember the 2002 World Cup at the same venue know how much buzz there was before each match, as fans flocked to the stadium.

Efforts should have been made to piggyback on the on-going events at Kuala Lumpur Sports City. This would have created some form of awareness about the tournament, and lured people to the stands.

Besides re-looking at its development programme following the team’s dismal performance, MHC could do well to see how it can market a sport badly in need of rejuvenation.

If it cannot attract more fans to the stadium, it will be a turn off for its sponsors.

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