Compare and Contrast: The Death of Hockey


Adam Proteau of The Hockey News saw the same study on the demise of hockey in Canada that I did, but his view is slightly different from mine.


Shocked? Mortified, even? You shouldn’t be if you’ve read my rants over the years. Bibby identifies the same factors – the change effected by immigrants from countries where hockey isn’t embedded in the citizenry; and the vast and ever-expanding amount of entertainment options, televised or otherwise, now available to consumers – I’ve noted for as long as I’ve been with THN.


In other words, I think a lot of Bibby’s findings can be rather easily explained away, and I find it rather more likely that his conclusions about the demise of the sport stem from either a) personal feeling or b) the desire to generate some publicity for his work.  Regardless, the data certainly isn’t firm enough for the sweeping generalizations that he makes.

I suggest reading both articles and comparing the findings; I see a sociologist craving a little publicity for his new book, while Proteau sees validation for his “rants” over the years.

Let’s assume for a moment though, that Proteau is right and I’m wrong. Here’s what Proteau suggests to combat this apparent decline in interest in the sport:

To believe the future of sports in Canada will play out as the present has – with hockey on top and all other disposable-income options in its slipstream – is the height of dominant-culture arrogance. Massive and multiple investments in the infrastructure of the game (i.e. building new arenas, making it more affordable and welcoming to different ethnicities) are absolutely paramount in addressing problems that Bibby’s studies show already are taking their toll.

Those are fine suggestions, I’m sure, although Proteau leaves out exactly how they’re supposed to be accomplished. For example – how does one a) invest a bunch of money in new buildings while b) make hockey more affordable? I’m not sure what things are like in Toronto, but from what I’ve seen whenever new arenas get built the price to play in them is through the roof. The only way around that obstacle that I can see is have public money thrown into new arenas – something that is already happening around the country (in my hometown, for example, a new arena is being completed as I write this, at a tremendous cost to taxpayers).

Thinks like welcoming “different ethnicities” are always a good idea, but are rather difficult to implement in practice.

Perhaps I’m being overly harsh to Proteau (if you think so, please chime in below) but I see his interpretation of Bibby’s work as an act of self-congratulation, and I see his suggestions as vague and (as currently structured) useless.

Further (and as a request for the comments section) I’ve been browsing through Proteau’s work over the past year (both his blog and his columns) and while he’s often critical of the NHL, I haven’t been able to find much in line with what he says he’s been arguing for years. The best piece I’ve found so far is this September 2008 column which argues in favour of continued debate on the game. If anyone has seen specific articles of Proteau’s, further detailing the three suggestions I criticized above, please pass it along.

  • Hippy

    ~Its a Sociologist. In other words he came up with a theory, got a few stats vaguely on topic and Wow! its scientific~

    I ~love~ those stats on the popularity of NHL hockey in each city in 2008. We need to control for the time of year, and the success of the team that year and recent years. Chicago would have had low interest 4 years ago compared to last year.

    Wow, and a Calgary Montreal final series was of more interest to Canadians than an all American final. Go figure.

    I would agree that enrollment for minor hockey players is down from 30+ years ago when I was a kid. This is just from the experience I had with my own kids. This might have a negative affect on NHL support. Hmm, maybe I could do a study…and write a book…

  • Hippy

    Hockey dead in Canada???? It's more like the NHL is dying in Canada. In my opinion, it has more to do with the state of the league and how it's been run in the last 10 years. As for the inmigration issue, all you have to do is look at the Hedo signing with the raptors in the NBA. He chose that city because his wife found it to be a cosmopolitan city.
    But, do you think that hockey and the Maple Leafs are on the decline in the city and the province of Ontario where by the way they are trying to bring another franchise to one of the cities????

    Also, has the number of youngsters who look to become pros declined in the last 10 years?? It's the game that is on decline, it's the "most important hockey league in the world" that has forced the decline and is in decline. ON another note…GOOOOOOOOOOO OILERSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!1

  • Hippy

    Hemmertime wrote:

    Eklunds source!

    That's priceless. Two clicks in, I got an e2:

    "According to sources within the Buffalo Sabres organisation, the Edmonton Oilers are willing to part with RW Ales Hemsky to obtain the services of RW Ales Kotalik. Remember, you heard it here first!"

    That is a sweet website.

  • Hippy

    Viewership of this year's Stanley Cup finals peaked at 3.5 million for Game 7–a healthy draw, but a fraction of the population.

    Previously, Stanley Cup games have garnered as many as 4.96 million viewers, as was the case in the 1994 faceoff between Vancouver and New York, or the 4.79 million Canadians who tuned into the Calgary-Montreal final 20 years ago.

    A hockey game between two American teams garnered fewer views in Canada than a game involving a Canadian team??? Goodness gracious!

  • Hippy

    It's hard for me to believe that interest in hockey is in decline, particularly when the level of dedicated interest online seems to border on the insane. TSN's hockey coverage gets more intense almost every year (with the possible exception of the Free Agent Frenzy when the executives seemed to realize their coverage was more than what was required).

    I read an article in the Journal a couple weeks ago about the burgeoning state of ball hockey in Edmonton. The sport has exploded, with two league sharing a healthy level a participation so much so that the Edmonton Ball Hockey League is turning the Golf Dome into a ball hockey arena.

    I've played in both these league and I see a lot of south asian folks playing, in fact if memory serves I believe there's a team made up entirely of south asians. I know not whether these guys are first or second generation Canadians, but it certainly suggests to me that the sport catches on with different elasticities.

    Also, it's worth pointing out that ball hockey is cheap, you don't need a lot of equipment to play, so it's very, very accessible. Sounds to me like we're well on our way to preserving the sport as number one in Canada. Hockey isn't going anywhere.

  • Hippy

    Another good read Jon, thank you.

    We can't seem to build enough arenas to keep up with the demand – isn't that enough said?

    Ice hockey may remain a middle/upper class sport to play, but it will always be king in Canada.

  • Hippy

    @ Jonathan Willis:

    Whoa Willis! What the heck is your problem man? You always have to "say something" when someone makes an overly critical and nonsensical comment about your articles. I always thought this was a place where people could come, and rip on the writers for no reason at all without fear of any backlash. Maybe you should stick to writing insightful and interesting articles.

    In the mean time Bob Cob and I will be out back sticking our dinks in gopher holes and sniffing ether.

  • Hippy

    Proteau's article on Bibby's study suggests that NHL viewership is on the decline because the number of kids playing the game has dropped.

    I'm not certain that at this point in time that the number of viewers watching NHL hockey in Canada has declined. But I think there are way less kids playing the game today (real hockey on skates, not ball hockey etc) then compared to the 60s, 70s & 80s.

    The game is too costly for many middle to lower income families today. Nike, Reebok and the others pay big money to today's stars to promote their products and recoup these costs by charging outrageous amounts for their equipment to the little guy.

    Also, nobody plays hockey outdoors anymore, only inside indoor arenas which are more costly to build. In turn, arena's too charge top dollar to rent ice, which in turn has parents digging deeper into their pockets along with costly fees by minor hockey orgs.

    In my days (70s & 80s) we had community clubs with three or four outdoor rinks (in addition to indoor arenas used for games) that were always packed with teams practicing, league games or just kids out playing a fun game on free ice – all night long!

    Today, you see some community leagues with no outdoor rinks in the winter, or just one where you might occasionally see a couple of kids out for a skate. It's kind of sad. Kids are more likely to be at home playing video games or in a mall texting one another!

    Perhaps if the decline continues it may have an affect in years to come.

  • Hippy

    this isnt uncommon in "science" where people take bad data or dont develop full analysis with the data for career purposes, etc…

    it happens A LOT. you can comb through the science section and see crappy sociobiology / evolutionary psychology books that do this same sort of crap so dudes can make a buck on book sales from their crappy career choices.

    unless this dude takes on hard data sets that tells WHY it died other than just stupid Nielsen ratings, im not impressed. its shoddy "science" and needs to be thrown in the scien-tainement (aka junk) pile.


  • Hippy

    I agree with the general idea of the study, that there isn't as much interest in hockey. I would say most (not all) of my friends aged 20-30 have a passing interest at best in hockey. Yes, I have some diehard fans in my group of friends, but if I took my 20 best friends, I'd guess only 5 of them are diehards. The rest are casual viewers, if that. All the rest of my buddies are huge into the NFL or NBA. Which makes some sense when you consider 20 years ago, NFL and NBA games weren't nearly as prevalent as they are today on Canadian TV. With 200 channels, people are going to watch other things.

  • Hippy

    @ Jonathan Willis:
    Well, Jon, Can I call you Jon? I guess I was expecting the kind of response I got, you wont make me mad, or get a rise out of me just because I prefer Brownlee and Gregors writing and that is personal opinion. Lots of people like your writing, good for them, its just not for me, I dont like eating liver, some people do, great.

    jeanshorts wrote:

    In the mean time Bob Cob and I will be out back sticking our dinks in gopher holes and sniffing ether.

    ….what you do on saturday nights is between you and that special someone. Remember, what happens in Saskatchewan stays in Saskatchewan.