Raw Numbers: Hockey Participation Up in 2011-12

There are more people playing hockey this year than there was last, according to USA Hockey’s recently released membership statistics for 2011-12. As of this past season, 511,178 players were registered with the national governing body in the United States, an all-time high. When you throw coaches and officials into the mix, USA Hockey boasts a membership of nearly 595,000 people.

Playing membership increased by 2.12 percent from 2010-11 (500,579), marking the third consecutive year of positive growth for USA Hockey. Since 2005-06, hockey participation has grown by 15.6% nationwide, which is incredibly positive, considering the economic woes in the United States. People are finding a way to play the game even through tough financial times.

Among the playing membership, the biggest gains were made in the 7-8 age range, which saw an increase of 4.26 percent from 2010-11. USA Hockey’s membership development department’s “Come Play Youth Hockey” initiative is working pretty well so far. One of its  main goals is to attract more players aged 8 and younger to promote better long-term growth, due to the higher likelihood of retaining players that start playing at the younger ages. Further proof that it’s working, USA Hockey retained 61,396 players in the age group from the previous year, which surpassed the goal set by the organization coming into the season.

Additionally, hockey playing membership increased at the adult, 13-14 and 11-12 age groups. Women’s hockey also grew by 1.65 percent, with marked growth among girls aged 14 and younger.

These are all positive numbers for the game in the United States. Coming up after the jump, a look at growth in the individual states including some encouraging numbers in non-traditional hockey states, the Stanley Cup Effect in Massachusetts, and much more.

In 2011-12, 37 states experienced growth throughout the country from the previous season. Hawaii boasted the highest percentage of growth, and I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek as it increased from seven members to 12 (71.4%). Delaware’s already small hockey-playing population had the biggest losses at -11.7 percent dropping from 1,216 to 1,074. Of the other states that lost members, none were terribly significant in terms of creating cause for alarm.

Traditionally strong Michigan, which experienced 5.5 percent growth in 2010-11, dropped by 2.4 percent (1,307 total players) in 2011-12. It still boasts the second-highest hockey population in the country at 52,944 and the economic instability of the state has created a fluctuating membership number for some time now. Still nearly 53,000 players statewide is pretty darn good, all things considered.

Minnesota remained the No. 1 state in terms of hockey-playing population, a position its held since 2008-09. Minnesota’s hockey participation grew by 1.15 percent in 2011-12 to a record high of 54,951, which is 2,007 more than the next closest state (Michigan).

These five states saw the highest percentage of growth in 2011-12 (excluding Hawaii):

Mississippi: 245 in 2010-11 to 382 in 2011-12 (55.9%)
Iowa: 2,979 to 3,457 (16%)
Virginia: 7,838 to 8,928 (13.9%)
Oregon: 777 to 881 (13.4%)
Arizona: 3,649 to 4,113 (12.7%)

Arizona and Virginia will be covered shortly in the non-traditional NHL markets report, but Iowa is quite a surprise. For the second straight year, membership has grown by 16 percent or more in what is now my home state. This comes with 14 rinks statewide, which is the appropriate amount for the population, but makes hockey travel insanely difficult for parents in the travel leagues with the rinks so far spread out. There are no professional teams in the state, but the USHL has five teams in the state and Iowa State University has a successful ACHA Division I team (shameless plug for the Alma mater).

It was also positive to see growth out of Oregon, which had been on the decline for years. The Portland Winterhawks of the WHL are gaining popularity and perhaps that popularity is starting to influence some locals. Either way, it’s good to see hockey growing in the state.

Now, here’s a look at some of the big highlights from the latest membership statistics.

Ovi’s Influence?

Once again, there was marked growth among states in the Potomac Valley. Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., each experienced growth of 11.5 percent or higher from the previous season.

The Washington Capitals have been one of the more exciting teams in the NHL over the last several seasons and boast one of the game’s biggest stars in Alex Ovechkin. The Caps also partook in last year’s Winter Classic and further endeared themselves to fans with a highly lauded appearance on HBO’s 24/7. That, combined with a tremendous amount of work by the people in the Potomac Valley’s youth hockey organizations to, um, capitalize on the growing interest in Washington Capitals hockey, has led to remarkable growth.

I’ve been told on many occasions by people within USA Hockey’s membership development department that the grassroots volunteers deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve been able to help accomplish in this area.

In 2005-06, Ovechkin’s first year in the league, Maryland’s hockey membership sat at 6,450. In 2011-12, 9,308 people were registered to play hockey in the state. That is a 44.3 percent increase over that span.

Virginia had 6,978 registered players in 2005-06. In 2011-12, that number has grown to 8,928, marking a 27.9 percent boost in that time frame.

Washington, D.C., had just 422 players in 2005-06, but now has 899. The nation’s capital, while small in number of total registered players has experienced 113 percent growth since Ovechkin arrived.

The success of the local team absolutely has an effect on what is happening in the Potomac Valley. This is truly stunning growth for an area of the country that took a while to warm up to the game. Since 1990-91, Maryland’s hockey population has grown by 377.1 percent, Virginia’s by 511.9 and D.C.’s by 259.6. Hockey.

The Stanley Cup Effect in Massachusetts

The Boston Bruins ended a 39-year Stanley Cup drought in 2010-11. Though Massachusetts is a traditionally strong hockey state, it has been on a bit of a roller-coaster ride for the last 10 years in terms of hockey-playing membership. In 2008-09, the Bay State’s hockey membership dipped to 42,115, its lowest total in more than 10 years.

Thanks, in part, to the Bruins hoisting the Stanley Cup, Massachusetts set a new record for membership in 2011-12, boasting 46,788 registered players, a 4.2 percent increase from the previous season. Though it appears to be a modest gain coming off a Cup win, it is the largest increase in membership from one year to the next in the Bay State in almost 20 years. Because it’s the Cup?

Non-Traditional Gains

The derision of Sunbelt Expansion seems to be an annual affair. While there may be signs of it not working from the business standpoint, it has absolutely, without a doubt helped hockey grow in the United States. It’s inarguable when you look at the positive gains being made in the ever-increasing hockey participation in each state housing a “non-traditional” team.

Amid relocation concerns and still struggling ticket sales, hockey in Arizona has continued to grow against all odds. There are not a ton of rinks in the state still, but there are people finding ways to play the game.

Arizona’s 12.7 percent membership growth from 2010-11 to 2011-12 was the sixth highest in the nation. There are now a record 4,113 registered hockey players in the state of Arizona. Youth hockey participation from ages 12 and below grew by 23.2 percent statewide, which includes a near 40 percent bump among players aged 8 and below. Very positive sign for the future.

Since the Coyotes arrived in 1996, Arizona hockey has grown by nearly 50 percent overall. It hasn’t been a dramatic rise in hockey participation, but the Yotes are certainly a catalyst for the positive momentum.

The Nashville Predators have ignited a lot more interest in the team and the game of hockey in their home state thanks to back-to-back exciting seasons. With the best D pairing in hockey (for now), one of the best goalies in the NHL and a young team with a lot of promise, ticket sales have picked up. So too has hockey participation in Tennessee.

The Volunteer State experienced 11.9 percent membership growth from the previous year in 2011-12. A record 2,880 players were registered with USA Hockey. Encouragingly, youth hockey grew across the board.

Since the Predators arrived in 1998, hockey participation has increased by 144.9 percent in Tennessee. The future remains bright for the Predators organization, though it is likely to get dinged in free agency this summer. As the team continues to grow interest in the game, participation should grow with it.

North Carolina had a significant 10.1 percent growth spurt in 2011-12. Like Tennessee, NC experienced across-the-board growth in youth hockey. Since the Hurricanes arrived in 1997, hockey participation has grown by 152.9 percent in North Carolina.

California, as documented extensively in this post, has continued its dramatic climb. In 2011-12, California’s hockey participation increased by a strong 8.05 percent. The youngest levels of youth hockey showed a 14.5 percent increase from the previous year, which is another positive sign. California’s 24,101 registered hockey players gives it the seventh highest hockey-playing population nationally, trailing Illinois by 2,369.

Florida’s hockey growth continued in 2011-12, albeit by a modest 1.3 percent. That said, Florida has seen growth in participation every year since 2004-05. Hockey membership statewide has increased by 52 percent over the last 10 years and now sits at a record high of 11,721 players.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg did not have a negative impact on Georgia’s youth hockey population, as I had forecasted last year. Was not sad about being wrong here. Georgia experienced 3 percent growth in 2011-12, with 2,355 hockey players registered statewide.

Other Notes

- Western Pennsylvania, which has been on a rapid rise since the arrival of Sidney Crosby to the Pittsburgh Penguins experienced another year of growth. There are now 12,757 registered hockey players in Western PA (USA Hockey’s registration numbers split PA, as they are governed by separate districts), which marks 3.6 percent growth from the previous season. Since 2005-06, Crosby’s first year with the Pens, hockey participation has grown by 47.2 percent in the area. Combined with Eastern PA, the state boasts a total of 30,042 players, which ranks fifth nationally.

-Connecticut, in which hockey has grown only marginally since the departure of the Hartford Whalers in 1997, experienced a spike of 7.8 percent in 2011-12 to a record 13,344 players.

- Missouri experienced a 4.8 percent increase and eclipsed 7,000 players for the first time. With the recent success of the Blues, that number could increase by even more next season.

- New York’s hockey membership now sits at a record high of 48,205. New York ranks third nationally in hockey participation.

- Alabama’s membership increased by 11.6 percent. It should be interesting to see what happens to the University of Alabama Huntsville, which is still fighting to keep its Division I hockey team from being disbanded. Hockey has grown by 267.6 percent in the last 20 years and the Chargers are a big part of that.

- Traditionally strong Wisconsin saw a decrease of 1.6 percent, dipping below 18,000 members for the first time in three years.

- Texas membership dipped by 1.1 percent in 2011-12 to 11,531. However, it sounds as though Tom Gagliardi, new owner of the Dallas Stars, plans to recommit the team to growing youth hockey in Dallas and surrounding areas after a few years of letting the relationship sour locally.

USA Hockey is in the middle of a really nice run of growth over these last few years. The NHL has continued to become more popular in the U.S., which certainly helps expose the game to a higher quantity of people, but a lot of the credit is due to the folks at the grassroots level.

Hockey is an expensive game, and can be exclusive for that reason. A lot of the youth hockey organizations are finding ways to attract people of all incomes to the rink and make the game as accessible as possible. It isn’t easy, but necessary.

The membership development department at USA Hockey led by Pat Kelleher, which made an immediate impact since its implementation, also should have praise thrown their way. Helping bring in substantial growth in the last three years amid economic woes is no small feat.

Additionally, there are plenty of great coaches across the country preaching fun at the youngest levels of hockey to instill a passion for the game in America’s youth. The focus on fun and not winning until players get older is of paramount importance for retention.

Then there are the hockey moms and dads that are finding ways to allow their kids to play the game. It isn’t easy financially for a lot of people, but a lot of folks across the country are doing what they can to give their kids a shot at this great game.

Without these people, a lot of whom are on a volunteer basis, none of this is possible. Hats off to all of thosehave helped the great game of ice hockey grow throughout the United States.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
This entry was posted in Grow the Game, High School Hockey, Junior Hockey, NHL, USA Hockey, Women's Hockey, Youth Hockey. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Raw Numbers: Hockey Participation Up in 2011-12

  1. Interesting read Chris, thanks. Great to see hockey becoming more accessible and interesting for US youth.

    I think it is especially huge when expansion (or relocated) teams invest in their community’s grassroots hockey to increase participation. I remember reading about the Stars doing this when they relocated to Dallas, and that it significantly increased opportunities for participation in Texas. Any idea if other sunbelt teams (Nashville, Phoenix, etc.) have made similar investments, and if those are contributing to the growth of the sport?

  2. Chris Peters says:

    Thanks for the comment, Mark.

    I’ll have to look into this a bit more, as I’m not entirely familiar with what has happened in every market, but no one has come close to doing what Dallas did in terms of making an investment. Building multiple rinks was key to growth in Texas.

    Phoenix has been very engaged with youth hockey, though I don’t believe there has been much in terms of monetary investment. Not sure about Nashville.

    Tampa Bay has gotten a lot more involved with local youth hockey under Jeff Vinik.

    I will look into it a bit more to see what I come up with. I think almost every team in the NHL is involved with local youth hockey in some capacity. Most have youth hockey coordinators that work for the organization. I’ll have to find out how many are actually putting money behind that relationship beyond paying someone to keep the local hockey community engaged. Very good question, thanks!

    • Thanks for the reply Chris. Definitely an interesting area to explore. I do remember Dallas being held up as exemplary but hadn’t heard much about other teams’ initiatives. It would definitely be cool to find out more about what, if anything, teams are doing in this area.

  3. Dean Hall says:

    Great story. No one is surprised to see Texas lose players in the youth numbers, and unfortunately the grand plans to “fix it” have been met with resistance to the point of people canceling Stars season tickets and boycotting any of the new league’s teams. Don’t be surprised if next year the numbers in Texas drop even more, and rinks such as McKinney are no longer run as Stars Centres. Have to wonder just how much the Dallas Stars are REALLY involved in the league with their name as so far indications are very little beyond giving away vouchers for pre-season tickets. And that is a shame.

  4. There are actually *lots* of rinks for playing hockey (especially at the youth level) in Phoenix, but I don’t think the Coyotes are particularly directly involved in growing the sport. (Other than, y’know, being here and being awesome.) But scratch the surface in Phoenix, and you find out that there’s tons of hockey here, and tons of interest. [I’m one of the new adult, female players in AZ, so I found this article an interesting read.)

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  6. Dylan says:

    Thanks for this great article. Being a Minnesotan hockey has been a major part of my life since I was a kid. I now have two boys playing in the youth ranks and it appears the fanatacism for hockey in Minnesota has only grown since my playing days. I love to see that other people in the country are catching on. Hockey is such a unique, fun game that it has always baffled me that people around the country don’t get it. I guess if the exposure isn’t there they can’t help it but I’m so glad to see the efforts being made to get people in the non-traditional markets involved in the game. “Hockey is Life.” That isn’t just a slogan on a t-shirt. Those who play the game know this. You suddenly become “hockey people” or a “hockey family.” I think that is so unique to hockey. I will be a fan and promoter of the game for the rest of my life. It will be fun to see the game continue to grow and watch more people be transformed into “hockey people.”

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