By: Shane Kehl
According to The Trusted Source for Sports Parents, the average cost for an entire season of youth football is $558 per child. After football came baseball, which was averaged at around $385 with a bat being a majority of the cost. Ahead of both of these was lacrosse, which tallied up to $565 and was only less expensive than ice hockey. While this is certainly a large amount of money, it is relatively inexpensive when compared to the expenses that come along with playing ice hockey. To put it into perspective, one pair of Bauer Supreme ice hockey skates is available for pre-order with a $950 price tag. Ice hockey is a serious commitment financially and has been since the conception of the game.
Since the dawn of ice hockey there has always been an imbalance, with regards to class status, in the opportunity one has to compete in the sport. In the early days of ice hockey in North America, circa 1904, there were five teams in the first professional league (IHL): four American teams and one Canadian team. An analysis of newspapers from hosting IHL cities and non-hosting cities in 2004 showed just how much class can alter the perception of hockey (Mason & Duquette, 2004). One of the American cities that hosted an IHL team was Pittsburgh, which is known for its working-class people who spent most of their days working in steel mills. The newspapers in IHL cities focused on the physicality of the league, and also incorporated more detail about the game and how much blue-collar people were supportive of the teams. On the contrary, the major Canadian newspapers, which had less space for stories, were only highlighting the violent nature of the IHL and the absurdity of player salaries in such a low skill level league. The reason these players were less skilled than the elite Canadian teams is because they didn’t have the same amount of income to spend on hockey, and thus never got the proper training and equipment required to be successful.
With higher circulation numbers the major Canadian newspapers had given the IHL a violent reputation that scared off new recruits and essentially halted the progress that lower-class people were making in regards to playing hockey. Hockey was dominated by the middle and upper class before the IHL and when it disbanded in 1907 the class-based dominance started up once again (Mason & Duquette, 2004). With the restoration of the elite view of Canadian hockey the lower class began getting weeded out of the game and middle and upper class took control.
Even a century later the aforementioned imbalance still holds true because families with an average income just cannot afford to have a child play hockey because of the incredibly steep costs that come with playing. The material circumstances, or “the economic conditions underlying the society,” are why it is so difficult to immerse someone into the game of hockey (Dobie, 2002). The initial costs are staggering and that alone can deter someone from wanting to start playing hockey. The reason hockey is the smallest, as far as viewership, around the United States when compared to football, baseball, and basketball, is because it isn’t as readily available to start playing and thus receives less recognition.
Steve Wulf, Senior Writer at ESPN and father of a hockey player, broke down the average cost of playing hockey throughout a child’s youth career. In 2013 he tallied a grand total of $48,850, which he admits doesn’t even cover many variable fees such as gas, food when traveling, and mileage put on the family car (Wulf, 2013). $48,850 – in 2013 the average household income was $51,939, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which is only $3,089 more than Wulf’s estimated average cost. These figures go to show that even a family with the average income in America would have a tough time setting aside enough money each year for their son or daughter to play hockey throughout his or her childhood. With these substantial costs many families are almost eliminated from the possibility of having one or more of their children play ice hockey at any level.
The aforementioned average expense of $48,850 is exactly that, an average. Many hockey players who want to play at a high level also incur much higher fees when it comes to things such as private lessons, teams that travel more frequently, and top-of-the-line gear, which they hope will give them a competitive advantage. The pieces of high-end equipment that are most sought after are helmets, gloves, sticks, and skates. If parents were to buy their kid top-of-the-line gear, just in these four categories, it would cost them $1,690, which just isn’t realistic for most families. This calculation also doesn’t consider the fact that sticks break frequently and kids’ bodies grow as well, resulting in purchasing of new gear almost every year for some pieces of equipment. With the annual purchasing of some new gear and season dues, a family that isn’t at least middle class would have a very tough time buying the necessary equipment to allow their child to play, let alone succeed.
As a whole, being a member of a lower class family does not crush your chance of playing hockey, but it does hinder the chance of playing at an advanced level. Paying for the bare essentials, gear and team dues, will allow you to play but without outside lessons and additional training odds are there won’t be much advancement for that player. While hockey, just like other competitive sports, provides kids with life lessons it might not be worth the cost for some families when they can have their child partake in a much cheaper sport such as soccer or basketball. Unlike most other sports, hockey requires that all parts of the body be protected during play and thus has the largest quantity of gear, resulting in much more purchasing of equipment as the player gets older.
I have played organized hockey since I was five-years-old and my parents always made sure that I had good-fitting gear and equipment that would ensure my safety. Paying for hockey wasn’t an issue because they were incredibly passionate about the sport and wanted me to compete in something I loved as well. The thought of not being able to play hockey solely because of the financial burden that it imposes on families is very disheartening. I never ran into the problem of wanting to play more hockey, or practice more, and not being able to because my parents couldn’t afford it; and I just finished my last year of playing ACHA hockey. If I got to play whenever I wanted, got the gear I needed, and devoted so much of my time to playing and still never played professionally then imagine how hard it must be for someone who doesn’t have those options. While everyone’s goal may not be to play at that high of a level some people never even get the chance to try hockey and see if they enjoy it enough to pursue that dream.
The high cost of playing ice hockey is a deterrent for many families and that is why it has not and will not grow to be as large as other sports in the United States. Lower class families don’t really have a chance to play hockey and middle class families have to decide if they want to spend a large chunk of their income on one sport, rather than paying for a cheaper sport and doing other things with their remaining income. The culture of hockey is very much that of a blue-collar family, in that it requires extensive work and financial dedication to be successful, but those same principles exclude those very people from being able to partake in the sport. Many National Hockey League (NHL) players played junior hockey before making it to the League, but those costs are the steepest of them all, and fewer than 5% of those junior players make the NHL. Ice hockey is becoming too expensive for most families and even if a child begins playing at a young age it is still a massive financial commitment that can often times not be upheld. As long as the cost to play hockey is so high it will continue to be less dominant than those sports that people of all class levels can play.