Decline In Hockey Isn’t Rocket Science

I love reading all the theories of why the interest in hockey across Canada, Ontario and Toronto is on the steep decline. I especially love when the blame is put on the Maple Leafs for their losing ways. The reality is there are a lot of reasons why interest is down, but it says here none of them has anything to do with our loveable losers. I suggest that interest in the Maple Leafs may be down but there is no correlation between that and the decline in hockey.

Let’s take the easiest answers first. Hockey is expensive. The equipment, the ice time, the leagues all cost a fortune. This is not buying a pair of soccer shoes or basketball shoes or even a tennis racket. There are a ton of barriers to playing hockey that don’t exist in the other sports. After economics, there is the simple answer of time. Learning to play the game isn’t as simple as basketball, soccer or other sports. You have to teach a kid to skate, and that takes a long time. There are hockey skills and all that comes with learning the game. Parents don’t have the time it takes to deal with school and all the other programs that go on, there isn’t enough time to spend multiple hours at the arena.

So you take an expensive sport, two parent working homes with little time and then you have a larger foreign population in our backyard and you can quickly see how interest in the game is on the decline.

Now having said that I can tell you this. Little TSM is about to turn 7. If we don’t register him for hockey and related programs within 24 hours after registration begins for the programs we want, we won’t get in. There are four or five leagues in our area and they are all the same. There are a dozen or so skills programs around us too and they are all the same, jam packed within hours of registration being open.

Now, where the Leafs get killed in my opinion and I have said this before is that young kids, at least those I know, have no interest in the Maple Leaf players. Little TSM loves Crosby and Ovechkin. One of his cousins told me this passed weekend that his favorite players is Tavares and Sharp. The Maple Leafs failures on ice don’t matter nearly as much as their inability to produce or attract players that capture the minds or attentions of our youth. Little TSM wouldn’t want any one Maple Leaf jersey. Not one!

So as we try and figure out how to build the sport in Canada and Toronto I think we need to keep perspective of the world around us. When I was a kid we came home from school and played road hockey for hours. Today kids play on their DS, xbox or ps3. More parents are working and have less time to spend with their kids. We are in a bad spot economically and hockey is expensive. All the other reason are noise in my opinion.


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August 20, 2009 2:20 am

There’s definitely been a shift the last 15 years, especially in the city limits. The suburbs (Vaughn, Woodbridge etc) are just as hockey crazy as ever. But in downtown Toronto, there isn’t this ‘gotta be patriotic and love hockey, hockey and only hockey’ thing that people seem to feel in the country.

Downtown, you’re almost as likely to hear Jays/Raptor chatter as you are Leaf chatter these days. I think you might actually see more Jays hats and Raptor jerseys than Leaf stuff as well. (However, go north of Brampton and I don’t think people know the Raptors exist.)

I think what’s happening is that Toronto is a huge, rich, multicultural city. It’s in a different league than Calgary, Ottawa, or even Montreal where there is only intense interest in one sport. There’s so many people here from so many cultures that baseball, hockey, soccer and football all have their place. Toronto is too big and too diverse to be a one sport city. People should embrace that at this point.

August 20, 2009 9:01 am

Little TSM will wear a Luke Schenn jersey and he’ll like it.


August 20, 2009 2:09 pm

Here’s an article about it, not sure if it’s already been posted:

August 20, 2009 3:49 pm

I’ve wondered for the last number of years if the new wave of NHL players will be less hungry, due to being raised in more privilaged environments growing up.

August 20, 2009 6:20 pm

I am so glad you brought up this topic, I was wanting talk about it since I first heard of it last week.

I totally agree with you EC, I have really noticed in the last couple of years when I walk downtown the most local team gear I see is TFC, there are so many people walking around with jerseys, hats, I even saw patches on a shoulder bag, if we include top European clubs, soccer jerseys might be the most represented in the city of any sport. You are right I also see a good amount of Raptors/NBA gear. NFL is always been well represented and hasn’t changed from the previous decade to current. To my surprise I see a lot of Jays hats (considering the study says baseball has fallen the most in the last decade) but people wear the Jays caps, especially the retro style.

I just don’t see Leaf merchandise around, some might say it’s because it’s summer but not that long ago people would represent their fandom for the team by wearings hats or t-shirts, but I just don’t see it. This is something I’ve been noticing even last year during hockey season, I just don’t see many jerseys around. I see some other team jerseys (Caps, Pens) but still not compared in numbers to soccer, NBA, NFL or even MLB stuff that I see around the city.

This might be controversial but here it goes. There is a joke that a lot of black people say about hockey that goes “What’s the only black on NHL ice… the puck”. I think with the growing multiculturalism it’s a hard sell such a white-bread sport to people who maybe just can’t relate to the players. To make matters even worse, there are so many hockey analysts in this city (there’s more of them than physicians in this city)how many hockey analysts are non-white males? The only person I can think of Cassie Campbell on CBC b-game (no offense Ottawa lol) With panels on CBC, TSN, SN, and Score and almost everyone (if not everyone) are white guys. Now I am not calling racism on the stations or the sport, but just throwing out an idea why they might be losing that connection to multiple demographics.

August 20, 2009 7:57 pm

@FMT: You forgot Jason Portuondo of Sportsnet,he’s a black guy who sounds like a white guy trying to sound black 😉

August 21, 2009 1:30 am

Yeah, I gotta agree with EC and FMT. It seems there’s been a perceptible change in interest in hockey in Toronto the last 15/20 years.

Of course hockey is still #1 here, and God knows in the suburbs its as big as ever, but it really does seem that not as many Canadians (at least in this city) are born with that innate love of hockey.

I think I may almost be an example of this. I’m in my 20s, and my parents were immigrants from the UK, so I wasn’t brought up with any innate love for hockey. My parents barely know what hockey is. As such, hockey had to pique my interest for me to become a fan. It did to some degree (I’m a Leafs fan, and I follow the playoffs closely if there’s a Canadian team), but I’ve gravitated much more to baseball and basketball.

I’m not sure why it worked out that way. I guess certain things have turned me off the NHL a little. I don’t like that so many teams are in non traditional markets. I think the season is too long. I also get turned off by the over saturation in media coverage, and the fact that some Toronto hockey folks can be kind of dismissive of Toronto teams in other sports – to the extent it seems that they sometimes root for teams like the Jays and Raptors to fail (TSM does this a little I think). Kind of a pet peeve there. All in all, I guess it just didn’t grab me as much as the other sports have (though I am a fan).

August 21, 2009 2:12 pm

@Daniel: I wasn’t a fan of Led Zeppelin in their heyday for many of the same reasons.

May 7, 2010 11:21 am

I think that soccer is on its way of displacing hockey both in Canada and the United States…with demographic changes and the growth of Major League Soccer, I see things getting worse for hockey…

September 2, 2011 4:33 pm

I know in my scenario we pulled both our boys from hockey for different reasons.
My oldest son, who just finished Novice house-league had a poor experience when his coach benched him and 3 other players during playoff games in order to win.
This is houseleague mind you.
Our youngest just started hockey and some numbskull decided that 5-year-olds should do T-pushes and C-cuts for 24 minutes straight and play no games until February.
He quickly lost interest (this is after he spent all of August wearing his equipment while eating, sleeping and playing) and has no intentions of returning.
Once again, the hockey elite have destroyed the dreams of two young kids because winning and developing the next Crosby take precedence over fun and simply enjoying a youth sport.
They both love basketball, baseball, soccer and swimming. I can put them in all 4 for less $$ than one season of hockey.
Bye-bye early mornings, expensive costs and hockey-crazed parents & coaches who see nothing wrong with screaming at an 11-year-old referee or berating their own kids for not scoring in a game.

November 25, 2011 2:28 am

demographics are what is really killing hockey in canada – amongst a few other things which I will discuss shortly. The birthrate in Canada is around 1.66 kids per adult female; that is about half (or less) of what it was about 50 years’ ago. Since we don’t have enough children of our own, we import the young people we need to do the skilled jobs – and unskilled jobs – we can’t find people to do in our own backyards; suffice it to say, those new arrivals are going to come from a culture where hockey means spit to them. Demographics has been eating away at the canadian game for a few decades now, but it’s only in the past 5-7 years that people have really begun talking about it. For me, diminishing enrolment in minor hockey is symptomatic of larger issues in canadian society, too: the erosion of the middle class; the gradual decline of the conventional family; a culture that views children as a pain in the a s s; the eclipse of fatherhood and motherhood (men are not especially valued in our gynocentric canadian society and being a mother isn’t exactly a badge of honour, either – though wealthy 40-something white females do want designer babies out of a test tube and out of the womb of a surrogate); and we cannot overlook the fact that we have become a society of watchers rather than doers thanks to over-regulation, excess legalization, political correctness and the fact that canada is a more conformist society today than at any time in its history and people who take risks, like to be active and audacious, and who like to live life by their own definition of the good life rather than by someone else’s are penalized (it’s kinda like the rise of porn: perhaps because dating nowadays can be a rather dangerous thing and perhaps because asking the wrong individual out at the wrong time of month can create very negative consequences, people would rather watch other people have sex than go out and get some of it themselves). I think a mix of all these things explains why we see fewer children, fewer active and robust children (and fewer active and robust people in general), and fewer children playing hockey; when children begin to dwindle as a percentage of the total population, when an overly-lawyered and politically correct society turns people into passive watchers rather than assertive and robust doers, when demographics change and a society ages – well, then a sport like hockey is bound to suffer.

Canadian hockey is in terrible trouble and we will start to see that in the next decade.

It’s too bad, but this is trudeaupian canada where children risk run-ins with the law for playing street hockey, so no one should be much surprised.

August 19, 2015 9:14 pm

@Ian hahahaha yourre funny…..

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