Horse racing used to be commonly refered to as “the sport of kings”. Only the wealthy and upwardly mobile could participate in ownership or competition because of the expenses involved in that competition.
Is hockey now taking the place of horse racing? The costs associated with playing the game and the slowed growth in many areas of the game would suggest that our sport may be loosing some of its greatest young athletes because they can not afford to play.
Looking at the past decade, the costs associated with purchasing ice time from arenas has doubled in some areas of the country. These price increases are always passed on to the teams purchasing ice time. When just ten years ago it cost some players $1000 a year to play a high level of house hockey it is now costing $2000 or more.
When looking at travel hockey the price increases are more than double. Along with the additional cost for ice time, coaches are charging teams a lot more for their coaching services. Programs that once charged $4500 for a AAA season are now sometimes charging as much as $12000 and in some area’s after travel is accounted for players are spending $25000. Thats right, TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS, for one season of AAA hockey. These are dollar amounts that the average American family can not afford to pay.
Looking at equipment costs things get worse.
Back in 1994 I had all of my equipment stolen out of my car. Top of the line pro model equipment and a half-dozen sticks. When I went to replace all of my gear and sticks I spent less than $600 total. Today you might be able to buy some high quality skates for $600 if you find them on sale. If you had to do a full equipment replacement with sticks you will likely spend upwards of $3000. Thats a 500% increase.
Obviously technology has influenced cost of equipment, but the point is that income levels have not risen anywhere close to 500% in 20 years. At best, they have risen 60%. A 440% disparity, and that is no small number.
If you were making $30,000 a year in 1994, you might be making $48,000 a year in 2014. Thats if a lot has gone well for you in the work place, if not, you might be making much less.
Take into account how quickly children grow and how often new equipment and sticks need to be purchased, the cost of having a child play from age 5 to age 18 can easily exceed $100,000, and in some cases it can double that number. Camps, trainers, extra ice time, travel, nutrition supplements and a number of other factors can escalate these costs further.
I have heard stories of families taking out second and third mortgages on their homes in order to have their children play hockey. As they get older the costs can accelerate more quickly than people think.
There is also the emergence of hockey academies, private boarding schools where parents pay $40,000 or more a season for their player to incorporate hockey into their high-school education, all in the name of improving their skills so they can compete in elite leagues and catch the eye of scouts.
As coaches, we have all talked about making sacrifices for the team to our players. As parents we talk about making sacrifices for our children. But when does the sacrifice become too much to afford?
The problem is not only in the United States, but is across the border in Canada. While it is generally agreed it is more expensive in the U.S., because most rinks are privately owned and it is not the country’s primary sport, Canadian families are feeling the pressure as well.
Among the parents surveyed by Hockey Canada whose children had recently stopped playing hockey, 46% said lower costs would make them “much more likely” or “somewhat more likely” to resume playing.
In families with more than one child playing hockey, the cost of playing can really present a financial crisis. Choices have to be made and some if not all children in multi player families may be forced out of the game due to financial choices that have to be made in the best interests of the family.
Just how many players that could develop into world-class talents are lost to the game because of these financial choices?
In a survey TJHN conducted over the last four months, consisting of families that we have had contact with and their children have stopped playing the results were shocking.
While only twenty-two families from Michigan and Illinois were contacted, all twenty-two provided similar responses to the question of: why did their child stop playing hockey?
Every family answered that they could no longer afford for their children to play a high level of hockey. These same families are now supporting Lacrosse, Soccer, and Football programs because of their reduced in season and equipment expenses.
Have we lost the next Steven Stamkos? Probably not. But could we have lost the next Matt Carle? The possibility is there.
What the solution is, I certainly dont know. But can something be done to keep players in the game? I would hope that better minds and more powerful people could figure out a way.
Hockey has traditionally been a “blue collar” sport in attitude, player demographics, and fan support. It is now becoming much more of a “white collar” sport because the “blue collar” families can not afford to play, and can not afford to train in the way that families of wealth can afford.
The one thing that the game can not afford is to see the traditions our game was built upon be lost. That is neither a blue or white collar issue.
Joseph Kolodziej – Publisher