When it comes to growing any sport, it takes a lot of time and effort. The NHL has focused on promoting the league from non-traditional markets in the United States to overseas in Europe. On the other end of the spectrum, there are the grassroots programs such as Hockey 4 Youth that aim to get Canadian youth into the game, which diversifies and expands its appeal among new audiences.
The Impact of the World Cup of Hockey
A panel discussion was hosted by the Economic Club of Canada that featured NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, Dan Near of Adidas Hockey and Moezine Hasham, the executive director and co-founder of Hockey 4 Youth. Moderated by TSN broadcaster Andi Petrillo, the panel discussed the economic and cultural impact of the World Cup of Hockey as well as growing the game at the grassroots level by exposing new Canadians to hockey.
According to Bettman, the NHL is the most international of all North American major sports leagues, with around 50 per cent of its players coming from Canada, 25 per cent from the United States and the other 25 per cent from outside of North America. “We want to keep encouraging the development of athletes with the best skill on a worldwide basis so ultimately they’ll come in what is known as the best hockey league in the world,” said Bettman.
What distinguishes the World Cup of Hockey from the Olympics is the fact that this is a hockey only event. It is a showcase for the best players in the world and unlike the Olympics where the spotlight is divided among all the sports, hockey is the main focus here. The fan village was also created to bring fans together to celebrate the game of hockey, but also the cultures of the nations taking part in the tournament.
— Hockey4Youth (@hockey4youth) September 16, 2016
Hockey 4 Youth and the Grassroots Level
Hockey 4 Youth was launched in 2015, operating two programs in Toronto and one in Montreal. Hockey 4 Youth provides new Canadian youth with the opportunity to play hockey without cost. In addition, they have a life skills development program called T.E.C.H (Technology, Entrepreneurship, Community, Health).
At the age of six, Hasham was given donated equipment which helped him get into the game. His older siblings didn’t have the opportunity to play the game and believes it’s important to grow the game at the grassroots level so that kids in a similar position have the same opportunity he had. “Hockey transcends Canadian culture. There are barriers into the game. So for us it’s a simple mathematical equation. We remove those economic barriers for example. We increase accessibility and what that does is it equals inclusion,” said Hasham.
According to Hasham, a report from the Institute for Canadian Citizenship showed that 71 per cent of new Canadians express interest in hockey yet only one per cent of them will have the opportunity to play the game. He cites the connection at the professional level and what his organization is trying to do, as fans don’t always have access to the game and even seeing a game live is difficult.
— The Economic Club (@ECofCanada) September 16, 2016
Growing the Game
At the grassroots level, the financial barrier is a big one. Hasham mentioned that The Guardian talked about how it costs $3,700 to get an 11-17 year old into the game. When Hasham attended a coaching clinic, one coach told him that it costs $175,000 for ice time for their midget program. In comparison, the operating budget for Hockey 4 Youth’s three programs as well as their off-ice life skills development program costs the same amount.
One theme that ran consistently throughout the discussion was the desire to grow the game. Whether it’s placing an NHL team in Las Vegas, creating the fan village to accompany the World Cup of Hockey or simply getting new Canadians on the ice playing the game, exposure and removing any barriers to the game is the key to the NHL and the sport gaining new fans and expanding on a global scale.