Before everyone gets all hyped up and lights their posse torches, please let me say that I have accepted this fact and am completely at ease about it. In many respects, I am very happy about it. There are a lot of positives to having a limited, rabid, knowledgeable, fan base. Less bandwagoneers to fling on/off depending on the team's record. The downside is that we have less opportunity to watch our beloved sport on major network television and less opportunity to get good highlights of games.
So back to my point. Think of the 3rd world countries and the sports that are popular. Obviously one sport comes immediately to mind - soccer or futbol. It is a game that can be played on any open area with a ball. It doesn't even require shoes or any special equipment. Place a couple of rocks as goal posts and viola' you have a net to defend and shoot on. This ball can be a NERF ball, an air filled ball, a ball of yarn, a leather goat skin ball packed with goat hair, or any other kind of ball. To play soccer in America today, it will cost a family about $40 to register (covers the cost of fields, officials, and uniforms), $30 - $50 for shoes and shin guards and if you want to provide a ball, you can add another $10. All told, a kid can play soccer for close to $100.
As many of you know, you can't even buy a pair of skates or a new stick for $100. Those of you in America know that $40 goes straight to USA Hockey before you can even step one skate blade on the ice. If you are unaware, it even costs your "volunteer" coaches to pay $40 to USA hockey just to volunteer our coaching/hockey experience. Then add the mandatory hockey Coaches Certification program that is also required to even step foot on the bench or place a skate blade on the ice. You get to spend $50 and an entire weekend every two years in order to be a coach. Paying to volunteer? What a concept. Now that is a mob style racket that I'd like to get in on. Any of you USA Hockey mobsters that want to have a debate as to the extreme value that the $40 annual fee gets me or my boys, well let's have at it and take your best shot at convincing someone other than yourself and your fellow organized crime bosses that you are fully justified. The only comparable sport/activity to the expense of hockey may be motocross. Both are major investments and many good young athletes are priced out of the game. It IS that simple. For a youth player to get new equipment, you will spend $300-$500. If you go with used gear, that cost can be reduced. It would be nice if this fixed cost only happened once, but it happens every few years as the players grow out of or wears out the equipment. To skate, you will find ice rental anywhere from $125 - $400 per hour depending on the climate. The days when we wore very little protective equipment and skated on outdoor ponds, lakes, and rinks seems to be over. HECC Approval, USA Hockey approval, my approval, your approval, everyone's approval has the hockey community terrified of an injury or lawsuit and it has only driven up the price of admission. The game used to be much more available to potential players, but every year, the ticket to entry gets more and more expensive. The availability of frozen water in northern locations is essentially unlimited and kids can skate on their own desire in those places. However, are there any free or low cost outdoor leagues still in existence? In other climates, the only option is to pay hard money to skate. Many rinks do not even have "in house" or Rec leagues because they make less money on those leagues. For a Rec league, the average youth player can get 10 games and 10 practices for $400-$600. If you extrapolate that out to make it closer in time, number of games, and number of practices as soccer or baseball, you really need to play for 2 Rec league sessions or about 4-6 months. That gives your player 20 games and 20 practices for $800 - $1,200 and that is a far cry from $100. When you look at the most competitive club/travel hockey, then things get really crazy.
Here in CA, the average player pays a minimum of $2,500 to play a 15-20 game league schedule and about 90 hours of practice time. If you plan on 3 tournaments during the season and a few scrimmages, you need to plan on another $600 for the season. If any of the tournaments are away from home and travel is required, you need to plan for another $1000 - $6000 in family travel expenses. Anyone know why the $15 jersey in any Pro Shop or online hockey retailer is below the dignity of a hockey player who is 8 or 10 or 12? Does a club/travel player need a "better" jersey than the kid playing in the Rec league? Why are $400 uniforms (2 jerseys and 2 pair socks) a required purchase? I could buy authentic new Reebok home and away jerseys with a players name and number on it for less than a youth travel team uniform package. Anyone know why there are hundreds of former players who love the game and would volunteer to coach and yet we are paying $50 -$100 a game and any extra practice for a Professional Coach? Add in all travel expenses for the coach and you can add another $400 per player to the total tab. I am not trying to show any disrespect or discount the dedication and effectiveness of these outstanding coaches. I am bringing the spotlight on the total cost to play the game and coaches fees, if paid, are a part of the total cost. If you add all these things up, you have a range of $4,900 to $10,700 to play the game of hockey for one season.
For me, keeping the game as a niche is perfectly fine. I am happy in our small part of the worldwide sports scene. I am not happy about the ultra high cost to play and certainly hope and push for ways to reduce those costs. If we want to open up the game of hockey to more players, expand the fan base, and make it more accessible, we need to focus on the cost of entry. It is there we will find some answers.