For those of you who live amongst society (read: non-bloggers), you know that the world is getting a little strapped for money. Literally everywhere. Globally, we’re in the worst economic situation since the 1930s according to a bevvy of economists. Locally — wherever that may be for you — many people are struggling, still, to grasp the situation, let alone cope with it.

My “world is falling” lede isn’t meant to send you spiraling into a deep depression, but rather to contextualize a much less important issue in the grand scheme of life. In Canada, hockey enrollment has been steadily declining for several years now. In fact, according to a story from James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail, just 10% of Canadian males between the ages of five and 19 are signed up to play hockey.

That’s a rather small number and no matter how some may try to spin it, the reason behind it is hockey is just getting too expensive for 90% of households.

Mr. Mirtle‘s piece centers around how Bauer hockey is looking into ways they can help alleviate the hockey decline and ensure that they get kids in the game who remain “hockey players for life.” While this is certainly a worthy endeavor — especially given the numerous social and personal benefits that come with playing sports from a young age — there isn’t any rocket science to be done here. It’s simply too expensive.

I’ll grant that many moms and dads are apprehensive about putting their kid in such a physical sport. The injury concerns are obviously quite apparent and many parents would put their little angel in bubble wrap if it were legal in most provinces or states. But, I firmly believe that 99% of kids who desperately want to play hockey will overcome their parents’ inhibitions. Anyone who has lobbied to play football can attest to this and, realistically, injuries are a concern with any sport. At some point, you have to cut the umbilical cord.

As far as sports go, it doesn’t get much more expensive than hockey. Off the top of my head, the only sport more expensive has to be Polo because owning a horse is rather pricey. I couldn’t procure Polo Canada enrollment numbers, I can only assume that it’s drastically less than 10% of the 5-19 demographic.

Nevertheless, Bauer is on the case, as they told Mr. Mirtle:

“We’re going to invest some time and energy in looking at what the challenges are and what the barriers to entry are for non-hockey families,” Bauer chief executive officer Kevin Davis said. “We know that when we can get kids into the sport and they have a positive first experience, they remain hockey players for life. … We’re going to put the resources into this and make sure it can happen.”

But the people have spoken, and they simply cannot make the commitment necessary to raise a modern day hockey player. From the same article…:

“It’s become a sport that is too much for a middle class family to handle,” said Mark Hoffberg, a graphic designer from Brampton, Ont., who doesn’t plan to put his young children in hockey.

“Weekends at tournaments, league games every week,” added Dan Christensen, who pointed out that challenges exist even in rural areas such as his hometown of Wynyard, Sask. “With four kids, how do you justify that for only one of your children?”

The expenses of hockey, while not always visible from the surface, go well beyond the simply signing up. There’s ice time costs, equipment, travel and many leagues charge admission for parents to watch games. There are many more things that cost money which aren’t listed here, and there is also the cost of your sanity, which is often plucked from your heart when sitting in a rink filled with hockey parents.

Hockey families are inundated with monetary and emotional expenses and we’ve hit a point where it makes more sense to go elsewhere for the vast majority of the population. The cost now outweighs the benefit.

Out of curiosity, I hopped over to Pro Hockey Life’s online store and tried to figure out how much it would cost me to outfit a kid — I looked at ‘Jr.’ sizes — with essential equipment. For the purposes of the experiment, I only looked at Bauer equipment because they are the company tackling this issue. I also didn’t look into any clearance sales, because that’s a retailer issue, not a manufacturer one. Like any items, there are deals to be had.

If you were looking to outfit a player with a pair of Skates ($60), Shin Guards ($25), Pants ($45), Shoulder Pads ($25), Elbow Pads (20$), Gloves ($25), a Helmet ($40) and a Cage ($28), and a Stick ($22), you’re looking at a cool, crisp $290 in just equipment. Keep in mind this is pretty bare bones stuff, and a real player would need much more. For example, a hockey bag to carry it all, a neckguard, a mouthguard, etc., depending on the requirements of your league. A minimum $300+ expenditure before taxes, any league fees, and assuming that the child fits said Jr. sizes is no small commitment.

If I were to use myself as the paradigm for how a kid grows up, I know I got bigger every year, which means every year requires new stuff. Sure, selling old equipment can cut down the expense, but bigger means more cost, and these aren’t small dollars to begin with. Let’s also not forget that these figures are Canadian. Hockey equipment is typically more expensive in the United States and abroad. While this piece deals with declining Canadian hockey enrollment, the problem of cost extends well beyond Canada and could easily hinder the game worldwide.

The problem of cost is the key concept here. Some have used immigration as a convenient excuse to cover the numbers, but that line of reasoning puts us down a dangerous path.

“For the most part, immigration isn’t coming from countries that are historically hockey rich or have a strong hockey base,” McIntosh said. “So we’re introducing the game to people who have never experienced it. That’s been a change over the last 20 or 25 years, but we’re focusing on it much more.”

Looking back on the history of Canadian immigration, you will surely notice that where new Canadians are coming from has changed regionally. I would argue, however, that this shouldn’t impact hockey in any way.

To say that Canada is drawing from countries that do not have hockey traditions and this is consequently tied to the decline in numbers implies that there was a time when they did. Suggesting that Canadian immigrants used to come from hockey countries and don’t anymore is categorically false.

In 1966 the three biggest nations to contribute to Canada’s immigrant population were Great Britain, Italy and the United States. For a frame of reference on that, at the 1966 World Hockey Championships, Great Britain went 0-6-1 and boasted a 12-2 loss to Norway en route to a last place finish, Italy went undefeated in Group C thanks to wins over Denmark and South Africa, while the United States went 2-5-0 with a sparkling -21 goal differential.

Surely it’s easy to see how Canada flourished into the hockey power it is. Look at all that talent they plucked from other countries. The top five nations outside of North America at that tournament were the USSR, Czechoslovakia, East Germany (who fall under the USSR), Sweden, and Finland. Combined they had a whopping 1,472 nationals head to Canada out of an immigration pool of 194,743. Staggering.

By blaming modern immigration, you run the risk of using an underlying racial argument to account for a decline in hockey players. The top three countries to send newcomers to Canada in 2011 were The Phillipines, India and China. While these countries are admittedly non-hockey nations, they’re hardly far from the precedent set 45 years ago. Pragmatically speaking the difference, of course, is that it was much easier for people to afford the game of hockey back then, particularly when dealing with financial uncertainty after settling down in a new country.

Let’s not blame national traditions for why new Canadians are choosing soccer or basketball over hockey. Let’s acknowledge that they’re choosing these sports because they can and there aren’t legitimate avenues for them to pursue Canada’s national sport. There are plenty of hockey players of Asian descent across North America and the odds are overwhelmingly strong that their families have built up the wealth necessary to put their kids in the game after settling long ago. The number of people playing in their motherland has no relevance. This applies equally to ex-pat Brits, Italians or other countries that have long-standing immigration ties to North America.

Before we can fix declining hockey enrollment in any country, we need to address the problem of cost. Only diminished price tags will get people interested now. Until hockey equipment can be produced and sold for drastically less, ice time becomes cheaper, or a harsh economy turns itself around, the downward trend is just getting started.

For those of you interested, feel free to pick up a basketball or soccer ball for $20 or less at your neighborhood sporting goods store and head over to your local YMCA or field. If the simplicity doesn’t strike you, perhaps the price tag of a pair of skates will.

Comments (35)

  1. Under “essential equipment”, you forgot the most essential equipment (okay, maybe second to the helmet).

    The cup.

    Not a great expense, but I wouldn’t play without one.

    • There are few inventions more merciful than the cup, but I get caught up in technicalities and TECHNICALLY they’re not mandatory. But yeah, I wouldn’t be caught dead without one.

  2. There is a reason soccer is the most popular sport across the world, and now a more popular sport for kids in the US than hockey: it costs next to nothing to play.

  3. Good article. As a beer league player I have seen the cost of playing (equipment, ice time, etc) rise over the past 15 years.

    And as father to two young boys, I WANT to be able to enroll themin hockey but am terrified of the cost associated with it.

    We will let them decide which sport(s) they want to play and hope we can afford it.

  4. “For the most part, immigration isn’t coming from countries that are historically hockey rich or have a strong hockey base,”
    Translation: Immigrants are coming from non-white countries so it’s difficult to assimilate. As we all know, Portugal was a huge hockey powerhouse in the 1970s!! Nice spin job Hockey Canada!

  5. I think this post misses the point and falls victim to the common misconception that playing hockey is prohibitively expensive as compared to other youth sports.

    I’m not going to argue that hockey is cheap (I have 1 squirt and 2 mites). I know very well how much it costs. I think the point that you miss is that ALL youth sports cost a lot.

    You use soccer as an example of a very popular youth sport (all my kids play or have played soccer). Yes, I can sign my kids up for soccer at the Y for $85 for 6 weeks of soccer (1 game / 1 practice per week). Mites hockey costs me $725 for the season – but that season runs from October to March and they are on the ice 3 days a week. It costs much more per touch to play soccer than hockey.

    Also, “cheap” options like the Y aren’t viable long term. The problem is by age 8 or 9 (equivalent to Squirt hockey) there’s no one to play at the Y and you need to join the local soccer association. That requires league fees, tournament fees and uniform purchase. Maybe you have a daughter that wants to try gymnastics. Seems simple enough but the costs will make hockey look cheap.

    There are lots of ways to keep the costs down. There is no reason for a young child to buy $300 worth of new gear. There is lots of used gear available and most associations have equipment exchanges and swaps.

    The problem is that youth sports in general is too expensive. As fans of hockey we should be doing what we can to bring the costs down. But we also need to stop feeding the misconception that hockey is somehow more expensive then everything else.

    • While the cost per touch is an interesting comparison, I think part of the equation should include the ease at which people can get INTO any particular sport. If you look at hockey, for example, people need skates and a stick at the bare minimum to even TRY playing hockey. Not to mention a frozen pond or rink to learn to skate first. If you compare that to something like soccer, it takes a ball, and any flat surface. An open field, some blacktop, any gymnasium, the street… a backyard. So, a kid can play/practice almost anywhere.

      You also mention the cost of a season of soccer vs. a season of hockey. The cost per touch may be in favor of hockey, but the up front cost of gear +season fees certainly favor the soccer experience, especially if you aren’t sure you’re kid will even LIKE hockey. If you’re strapped for cash and the question is, “what sport should i put my kid in to see if s/he will enjoy it”? The answer is likely to be any low cost sport.

      I think the cost of hockey is prohibitive for many youth sports, but the cost of entry for hockey must surely be the highest of all the major sports.

      • I agree with a lot of what has been said here.

        Again, I am not trying to argue that youth hockey is cheap.

        My point is that ALL youth sports are expensive these days (at least in the US). Just go look at your local Soccer/Baseball/Football/Lacrosse association. Youth sports have gotten very expensive across the board. That’s the real problem “we” should be trying to address.

        As hockey fans/players/parents (I’m assuming since you read this blog) we shouldn’t be perpetuating the common misconception that hockey is more expensive than other youth sports.

        • maybe i was being a little long winded, but my point wasn’t that hockey is more or less expensive than other sports, but that it has (typically) a higher cost of entry, as evidenced by your own example.

          But i am in agreement with you that youth sports is expensive all around.

          • Not sure why you disagree hockey is the most expensive youth sport to play (other than maybe golf)

            soccer or basketball you buy one pair of cleats or shoes

            the practices times are also more inconvenient (early in morning for young kids, or playing at night)

        • I think that the other problem is the time commitment. As Mike G. said, the season is October through March. Right now my kids play two sports in that time frame (soccer / basketball) with a one month break in between. Also, the demands of after-school homework have risen substantially in the past 10 years. I see my elementary school kids coming home with 60-90 minutes of work every night during the week. Add that to the time for hockey (practice may be only 60 minutes, but it takes 30+ minutes to get to/from the rink and another 30+ minutes to gear up and off) and suddenly we don’t have a spare minute for five nights a week. For hoops, you show up 15 minutes before gametime, strip off the warmups, play for 45 minutes and are back home in time for the evening news.

        • I guess living in Canada I can’t address your point about sports in the US being expensive in general, but just look at the basics of the sports:

          How much does it cost to maintain an outdoor grass field during the spring and summer ? How much does it cost to run an ice rink ?

          I love hockey, and I was fortunate enough to play it growing up (as was my brother) but it is and always will be more expensive, no matter what spin you or anyone else puts on it.

          I will agree with you that other activities can be expensive: My sister took dance lessons. equipment was next to nothing, but the cost of dance lessons each month mad ice-time look like peanuts.

  6. I work at Canadian Tire in the sports section and the prices baffle me. I never played organized hockey where I needed equipment so I never really knew until now. The Bauer products we sell are the most expensive compared to the other brands and being Canadian Tire, we don’t sell the top of the line stuff either. I guess this is why I played baseball growing up.

  7. Agree with Chris, also have two young boys who play soccer because the cost of hockey is too high to start out and as they grow. Right now they play ball/road hockey and go public skating, although I play hockey regularly in a beer league, and would love to see them in a minor hockey league.

  8. and just read mike grolnic’s comment, and it makes sense about the cost per game, except I also do not want to burn out my kids playing 3 times a week. Once a week is fine, plus they get to play outside with their friends or at a park, homework, reading, games, etc… I don’t expect my kids to play like Crosby at 6, just have fun and be kids, so 3 times a week to me personally is excessive. So it depends on how you look at it, if you want more bang for your buck, maybe hockey is not too expensive then.

    • “Once a week is fine, plus they get to play outside with their friends or at a park,…”

      Yikes. You sound like one of those parents on those commercials I can’t seem to remember.

      “My kid plays 30 minutes of soccer…that’s good enough! =)” *SLAP*

      Kids need to be active for at least 1 and a half to 2 hours a day for healthy physiological, cognitive and emotional development. You won’t burn anyone out. Push them, so they improve? Yes. Burnout comes when you go into college, semi-pro and NHL, then you can talk about burnout.

      • Didier?

        are you actually a pro athlete or something? did you make it to minor leagues? or you a gym teacher?

        he clearly didn’t say he doesn’t let his kids play outside and exercise so you’re jumping to conclusions a lot

        • Look…in a country where obesity is going to destroy the federal health care budget and the future of this country’s overall health with a damned prognosis, we cannot take any chances.

          • http://Www.canadiansportforlife.ca
            http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=s4BxwMgo_7I

            The lack of Unstructured play is one of the reasons leading to the lack of physical literacy which deters our population from being physically for life. Good on him for letting his kids play. The proliferation of the helicopter parent has contributed to the obesity epidemic. We are scared to let our kids out to play because media has told us so. It’s free to go play basketball and soccer in a park. The same cannot be said for hockey. We are too caught up in structured programming. Play is usually more fun for a kid and the physical activity benefits can be greater due to engagement.nEverything has to be overseen and programmed to a point kids are disengaged. Let them go have fun.

            And if you want to talk touches, the average kids touches the puck for about 20 seconds per game of ice hockey. (stat from hockey canada long term player development model). Hockey leagues and being on the ice 3x per week are not the answer to obesity. Hockey is a sport where kids are usually sitting on the bench. 12 kids are on the ice at one time. Soccer 22 kids are on the pitch at once. There are too many arguments against it.

  9. sports are so much more fun without parents around

  10. FACT: Only 10% of Canadian kids play hockey.

    This bodes will for the improvement of a more important sport in this country, football/soccer =)

  11. I would point out that growing up playing in northern Minnesota, breezers (pants) were provided by the local Blue Line club, which I believe also covered a lot of the fees for coaching and ice time. Of course that was funded by parents working arena concessions and skate sharpeners (which is what my sister did with her boy).

    Still not cheap, especially with all the travel to weekend tournaments and shuttling to practices. But between that and used gear purchases to cut down on skates (need upgrades) and stretching other pieces for a couple seasons, costs were at least tried to keep under control. It’s better for kids to wear Chelio shoulder pads anyways.

    I think a bigger part of the participation angle is ice access. Outdoor ice is key, I’d expect. Each year I’d get a couple months of 5+ nights a week down at the rink. Of course, these days roller hockey is possible, so maybe that’s a hope? Inline skates aren’t cheap though, and not as many used skate options…

  12. Is it bad that my first thought on seeing the leading picture was whether these were the replacement players the NHL was going to introduce to the league to bypass a lockout? :P

  13. I am not seeing this downward enrollment trend in our association or other associations around our Chicago area. If anything, enrollment is just growing annually – my son is a second year squirt. Could be due to the 2010 Blackhawks Stanley Cup win, but I also think kids are seeing how exciting it is to play hockey. By the way, I immigrated from the Philippines and have met a few Asian hockey parents. It is not about immigration or maybe even cost, hockey enrollment could be down because kids just have more choices nowadays.

  14. OYSL for my ’91 son was $375, plus any tournaments would be split between players, coaches didn’t want to fundraise, approx $400, $750-$800 for the season, once you get past house league all sports cost more, for us it was ref and 2 assistants and lit fields (nice when yor kids game starts at 9pm)

  15. All this talk about cost of things like tournaments, playing/practicing 3+ times every week, and such has me a bit confused. Is there an assumption being made that all children play rep level hockey? I played house league hockey from when I was old enough to play, through to when I was too old to play. I played in one tournament that whole time, and during the regular season I’d generally have one practice and one game per week.

    After the first season of contact hockey, where I had two concussions in one season, my parents moved me to a non-contact house league where we continued the one practice and one game per week. After a couple of years, when we got older, that was reduced to just one game per week. As a result the league fees and such were far less expensive. In smaller towns I imagine that it would be difficult to have an alternate league for the less competitive/poorer families, but from most of the comments above it seems like such a thing is very uncommon when it’s an obvious solution (rather, it helps) to a couple of problems: concerns for safety and cost.

    As for cost of equipment, it can be expensive if you get all new stuff. Especially when you’re a kid that grows and you need to replace small equipment every year. But my parents simply took me to a shop near our home that sold all used equipment, and I mean ALL – skates, pants, pads, neck guard, cups, everything. That helped keep the cost down as well.

    So while there are ways in which hockey as a youth sport can become prohibitively expensive, it’s a bit misleading when ways of reducing cost aren’t mentioned at all in various articles about the costs are written, like this one.

  16. lets compare costs.

    My son plays squirt minor in the mid-atlantic (US) region. Club fees are $1700 plus travel and equipment. He has had a pair of skates for 9 months that need replacing. He loves hockey and is a rink rat (helps that dad coaches) We figured with travel expenses(gas, lodging, meals on the road) and equipment we are close to $2500 a season.

    He plays county soccer. league fees were $75 and modells sold a cleat,shin guard and ball combo for $35. travel costs are just gas at about $100 a season.

    Granted the seasons are different hockey we start the week before Labor day and end thae last week of feb. 2 on-ice practices, 2 off-ice practices and 1 game per week.

    soccer is 2 practices and 1-2 games per week from labor day through oct.

    Hockey is expensive and I have talked to many parents trying to get them involved and the first thing is “isn’t it really expensive?”

  17. I think the real issue here is the extremes that youth hockey is going to. Travel hockey seems increasingly excessive. I mean, spending $1,000 + on hockey is going to be cost prohibitive to a great number of families out there.

    What USA hockey and hockey canada should be doing is encouraging low cost leagues at local rinks.

    My local rink has a league for 8 year olds and younger. Before every practice and game, they lug out the gear bags for the kids. Non-essential stuff like elbows, shins, shoulders, etc can be shared… It’s not the most sanitary thing, but is it worth spending the $25 bucks for elbow pads that wont last for more than a year?

    This is the way that my rink brings kids in. Let them play cheap when they’re young, and they’ll find their way to the rink when they get older. We need more house leagues and more recreational play, and less tournaments and AAA+++ hockey.

  18. I have news for Bauer-Travel sports of ANY kind are expensive. My daughters both played club volleyball, and while you wouldn’t think that was an expensive sport, it was $3000/year each when all was said and done. Gym time, travel costs, having to stay in the hotels that the tournament organizers worked “deals” with (a 3 night weekend tournament was easliy a $500 thing), meals on the road (I got thoroughly SICK of Subway), gas, wear and tear on the car, petsitters, etc… all added up to the reality that I can no longer afford it anymore. My girls love the sport, but I will not take out a second mortgage to pay for this. They had fun and saw a lot of places, but neither will be earning a scholarship (that’s not why they were playing in the first place) and they will be playing in a league that goes to tournaments no more than about an hour’s drive from where we live. At less than half of what it cost before, it’s a good compromise.

  19. I like to give you an idea as to the real hard costs of creating a good youth hockey player from 4yrs old to 8yr old, we have spent 2,400-3,400-6,000 respectively -joined the winter club so this year will cost 10,000 next year we will budget about the same same for first year atom at nine years old! I can tell you that private instruction is 80/ hr divided by two players so 40.00 per hour. Cost of equipment is never even in the discussion, as there are so many other much more expensive repetitive costs training travel and time off work /fuel, etc. We take six to seven weeks off per season now that he is older and that could be reduced if he wants to countinue to develope into a top skating top contributing player at the top club in North America! However if you just have a recreational player it could cost between 1500-2500 per season no spring no rep team travel. So there you have it if you live in Canada you get to write off 1200-1500 saving you alittle at tax time.

  20. Hi,

    i am from slovakia. I hava 8 years old son who plays hocky since he was 4. We practice on Dukla Trencin ice rink where grove up Gaborik, Hossa,Chara…. If any parents want to put their kid to play hockey the hockey club give him all gear from skates to helmet fo free. We dont pay anything till 3rd grade of elementary school. After that we will pay 26 eur every month plus travel cost to games what is no more then 350 km away. 8 years old have to practice 3 times a week if the parents want to give their kid more practice they can sign up for private practice what cost 10eur one hour. so you can have one or more hours practic per week depends of your wallet . So this is how it is in Trencin SLOVAKIA. I used to live in New York for 5 years and now we thinking to move back but i think i canot afford it to keep my son to play hockey in New Yok.

  21. I’m doing a survey for college on the expense of hockey, and how it makes it difficult for low-income families to pay for their children to participate. Would you mind posting this link, in hopes that readers will fill out the survey? It’s only 7 questions, anonymous, and no questions are personal.

    http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CHVWHNL

    Thank you.

  22. I have 2 teenagers who have been in hockey.AAA & AA Level.I can tell you that that the costs can be devastating to a family’s finances.Beyond the extravagant costs of rep teams reg. and travel,there is constant pressure from coaches and to pay for extra training from one of the zillion hockey never was’s to attend there skills enhancement camps that they claim are mandatory to bring your child to the next level.Traing has become a profession for hockey has beens or never was’s.Learning your craft from hard work and love of the game is not good enough any more and the pressure to refinance your house to train 12 months a year at one of the thousand skills development camps is emmense.When people say thats only for the elite ones and dosen’t concern 90 % of the children I find that insulting.Why put your child in if you know you can’t live up to the commitment if they strive and acheive.That puts an even bigger strain on the parent child relationship..This year round traing is burning out the players we do have and this is an elitist sport already and will get worse unless the Canadian Government makes Registration a tax write off and coaches and parents with lots of money trying to buy there chlds future.i

  23. i think your al right but … volley ball is on the list of most expencive sports my sister plays and in two years she payd 4000$ and more

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