Hockey is one of the most exhilarating and engaging sports to watch. The finesse of the game coupled with its physicality and continuous action gives it a perfect blend of other popular sports. This combination should market itself, and the NHL should be at least close to as popular as leagues like the MLB and NBA. As you probably know, this isn’t the case.
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Part of this problem stems from the fact that the game is not nearly as accessible and applicable to youth sports as it could be. It requires more equipment and higher fees for ice time than sports like Baseball and Basketball.
According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, 56% of youths aged 6-17 participated in some sort of organized sport. Baseball and basketball unsurprisingly topped the list. All a kid needs to play basketball is a hoop and flat ground, so it will always be an extremely easy sport for anyone to pick up.
Baseball is slightly more involved, but a glove is all you need to throw the ball around, plus a bat, helmet, and uniform if you want to play with a team.
Hockey ranks 9th, behind gymnastics and golf.
When you start to factor in all of the expenses, you can see why. Hockey skates are oftentimes upwards of $300. A kid growing up will need a new pair probably every season until at least High School. When you factor in another roughly $1500 worth of gear that will also need to be replaced semi-regularly, and ice fees that can run well over two grand, you begin to see the problem.
Playing a sport as a child usually results in the creation of a lifelong fan. This is a huge marketing tool for the NBA and MLB. Part of the appeal of someone like Michael Jordan is the fact that he started out just as many kids do, on a hoop at his childhood house.
It makes basketball as a whole more relatable. Hockey does not have this. You have to come from a financially fortunate situation to ever step foot on the ice in full gear.
All of the marketing in the world cannot compare to the impact of knowing the feeling of a puck on your stick. It makes watching players like McDavid and Mackinnon even more mind-boggling because you can fully understand why what they’re doing is so ridiculous.
NHL franchises generated more than $6 billion in the 2021-22 season. If they want to preserve those profits and grow them at that, then they should all be investing much more into subsidizing and regulating youth hockey expenses.
If the league were to negotiate with gear companies to bring the price of youth gear down, not only would it generate more lifelong hockey fans and grow the sport, but it would also create a greater demand for the very youth gear that these companies are trying to sell. The NHL should also set aside a far greater portion of its revenue to pay part of the ice fees for youth leagues.
Hockey is a great sport for any kid to play. It teaches coordination, and teamwork, not to mention it’s superb exercise.
Any kid who plays becomes a hockey fan for life. If the NHL and the game want to survive and thrive, then changes must be made. The cost must come down.
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