When USA Hockey released its membership statistics a few weeks back, there was some good news and bad news. The bad news was that for the first time in four years, hockey participation didn’t grow in the United States. The good news is that the drop was minimal and hardly a cause for concern.
USA Hockey’s playing membership (not including coaches and officials) stood at 510,279 in 2012-13, just 899 fewer players than 2011-12’s record high of 511,178. So the down-turn is a little disappointing after such tremendous growth over the last four years, but in the end, it’s a negligible loss of 0.18 percent.
Hockey participation essentially flattened out a bit, which perhaps should have been expected after two consecutive years of dramatic increases in hockey players throughout the country. In 2010-11, hockey participation grew by over 5 percent, which was followed by another boost of 2.12 percent in 2011-12. Even as hockey gains popularity, it would be difficult to expect that type of growth to be sustainable.
Coming up after the jump, a look at some of the causes of the slight drop, as well as where hockey actually grew in 2012-13 and the top 10 hockey states in the U.S. last year.
One of the factors at play in the halting of growth may have been the NHL’s lockout. It’s certainly not wholly to blame, but when four years of growth get stopped in its tracks, there has to be some amount of cause tied to the lockout. The NHL season brings excitement and there’s some residual effects in those early fall months. A new season might give a few folks that extra nudge to get started in hockey, be it adults or kids. When you don’t have that early-season hook, there’s less ability to reach a wider audience.
During the 2004-05 lockout, in which an entire NHL season was lost, USA Hockey’s numbers suffered dramatically in both the year of and the year after that work stoppage, resulting in a 1.7 percent decrease in total playing membership. Similarly, hockey had been on a path of momentum in hockey growth prior to the lost NHL season. It rebounded substantially in 2006-07.
There’s reason to believe hockey membership could rebound again seeing as the NHL not only saved half of its season, but played to full buildings and record TV ratings throughout the regular season and playoffs. Against all odds, hockey came back stronger and I’d expect U.S. hockey participation to do the same in 2013-14.
In a season of loss, however minimal, it always interesting to see where hockey managed to grow. USA Hockey’s 52 designated localities (Pennsylvania is split in half, while Washington, D.C., is counted on its own), half achieved growth. Not many had dramatic spikes, but there were certainly a few states that stood out for big years.
Where Hockey Grew in 2012-13
Here’s a look at the five states (with at least 1,000 players) where hockey grew most, by percentage:
1. Oregon — 1,340 players, up 52 percent from 2011-12
2. Washington, D.C. — 1,000 players, up 11 percent
3. Idaho — 3,349 players, up 10 percent
4. Vermont — 4,861 players, up 8.3 percent
5. Nevada — 1,230 players, up 7.5 percent
Obviously all of these locations had relatively small numbers to begin with, which leads to those lofty percentages, but the growth is still impressive.
Oregon’s growth is particularly encouraging after several years of decline. Last season’s 1,340 registered players was the state’s highest since at least 1998-99, which is as far back as USA Hockey’s public state-by-state records go. The state had hit a low in 2008-09 of 747 and this is the first time since 2006-07 that Oregon has had more than 1,000 registered hockey players.
Washington, D.C., is also showing encouraging growth, but more on that in just a bit.
While many of the traditional hockey states saw drops in numbers, several made surprising gains in 2012-13.
Of the states that include an NHL team, aside from D.C., Illinois was the biggest grower. The Land of Lincoln grew to a record high of 27,638, representing a 4.41 percent increase from the previous season. It’s not that difficult to see what is stoking hockey’s growth in the state. It’s actually rather remarkable to look at the numbers.
For almost a decade, USA Hockey’s membership in the state of Illinois was essentially flat, hovering between 21,000 and 22,000 hockey players statewide. The Blackhawks resurgence basically started in 2008-09 when the team made the Western Conference Finals and kind of turned the corner it seemed with new ownership. Since 2009-10, hockey in Illinois has been on a precipitous rise. In 2008-09, there were 21,954 players statewide. As of 2012-13, Illinois’ hockey participation has grown by more that 25 percent in the “resurgent years” for the Blackhawks.
Considering almost a decade of stagnancy in membership, this 25 percent bump in a state that has hovered between the fifth and sixth highest hockey-playing population of any state is pretty incredible.
Illinois had the infrastructure to support such growth with plenty of rinks, particularly in the Chicago area and surrounding suburbs, so that helps a lot. The Blackhawks appear to be a huge spark, though. Considering interest in the team was even higher this year, expect another increase in Illinois in 2013-14’s numbers.
Washington, D.C., & Virginia
Seeing Washington, D.C., top 1,000 hockey players for the first time is pretty neat. The Capitals are surely playing a large role. When you expand the scope to Virginia and Maryland as well, the growth is even more exciting. Maryland ended up losing some of its luster this year with a minor drop in membership (145 total players), but D.C., and Virginia continued to surge ahead.
In 2006, Washington, D.C. had fewer than 500 players, while Virginia had just under 6,000. Today, D.C., has 1,000 players and Virginia has grown to a staggering 9,145.
The nation’s capital with its minuscule numbers has grown 136 percent, while Virginia has expanded by 52 percent since the 2005-06 season. Even with this year’s minor drop, Maryland has posted 42 percent growth since then as well.
These growth spurts are all in the Alex Ovechkin Era, so there’s part of the trigger. Credit also goes to those in the Potomac Valley youth hockey ranks, as they’ve done the best to capitalize on hockey’s increased popularity in the region. They’ve helped provide the places to play. I am continually amazed by what’s happening here.
USA Hockey splits up Pennsylvania into two regions, since they might as well be on opposite planets when it comes to hockey. For years, Eastern Pennsylvania’s numbers have dwarfed those of the West, but with each passing year, Western creeps ever closer.
Every year since at least 2005-06, which is when the public numbers split the regions, Western Pennsylvania has grown. Every single year. Like Ovechkin in the Potomac Valley, Sidney Crosby has been the spark for an area that was just waiting to explode.
In 2012-13, Western PA hit 13,060 hockey players, a record high, representing a 2.3 percent spike from the previous year and 50 percent growth since 2005-06.
The youth hockey rinks are filling up fast and the players coming out of the Pittsburgh area are getting better and better as well. This is one of USA Hockey’s fastest growing areas and it has helped turn Pennsylvania, as a whole, into the fifth largest hockey state in the country. Combined with Eastern PA’s numbers, the state boasted 30,314 total players in 2012-13.
Perhaps sparked by a resurgent New Jersey Devils team that made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, the state of New Jersey experienced a 2.49 percent increase in membership this year, well ahead of the national average.
The state topped 18,000 players for the first time ever and surpassed Wisconsin in hockey-playing population this year. At 18,264, New Jersey ranks eighth among all states in hockey participation now.
The Stanley Cup Effect is something I’ve been looking at over the last few years to see how much, if any impact the local team winning the Cup can have on local hockey numbers.
Every season, it seems to lead to growth, often large growth. That didn’t happen this year in California. The Kings won the Cup, but were barely able to capitalize on that momentum when the lockout stole the first half of the season and perhaps some of the buzz.
California did grow in 2012-13… By 25 players. Not 25 percent, 25 players. It’s certainly disappointing considering how large of an impact the Stanley Cup has had elsewhere.
In North Carolina, after the Hurricanes win in 2006, hockey grew by nearly 20 percent. Western Pennsylvania experienced 20 percent growth after the Pittsburgh Penguins win in 2009. Illinois grew by more than 20 percent in 2010. Even after Anaheim won in 2007, California hockey grew by 7 percent. Massachusetts, with an already well-established hockey participation rate saw a 4 percent bump after the Boston Bruins Cup win in 2011, a huge spike considering there were already nearly 45,000 hockey players in the state.
California doesn’t quite have the infrastructure of an Illinois or Massachussets or even a Western PA, but the fact that it only managed .1 percent growth after the Kings’ Stanley Cup win is fairly disappointing.
The good news, California hockey has hit a level where it doesn’t necessarily need rapid growth. It already happened. With more than 24,000 people playing hockey in the state, it ranks seventh nationwide. There’s still potential for more, but after Gretzky’s arrival led to insane numbers in the 90s, it was bound to taper off eventually. We’ll see how it progresses.
Other States of Note
Texas — The Lone Star State was one of the 26 locales that saw a growth spurt in 2012-13. Though it was minimal, the growth was enough to give Texas a record 11,861 registered players statewide.
New York — The Empire State experienced a .7 percent bump in membership this year to 48,544 players, a record high. New York is third among all states in hockey participation.
Michigan — It’s no secret Michigan’s economy has been a detriment to its membership numbers. That continued this year with a near 2 percent loss. The second-most populous state when it comes to hockey experienced a brief bump in 2010-11, with a membership of 54,251, but it now sits at 51,929 and is an even further cry from its record high of 57,862 from 2000-01. It’s tough sledding, but the state continues to churn out a lot of good hockey players.
Minnesota — After 12 years of continual growth, Minnesota’s climb stopped in 2013 with a 1.8 percent loss in membership. Minnesota had 1,016 fewer players last season compared to 2011-12.
Missouri — Another state that experienced growth in 2013, Missouri saw a near 2 percent increase in playing membership in 2013. Its numbers have been rising steadily since 2009-10
Florida — It’s probably not talked about enough, but hockey’s growth in Florida has been a really pleasant surprise. It has steadily grown each year since 2008-09 and was on the verge of surpassing 12,000 players this year with a record high of 11,924.
Arizona — Now that we know the Coyotes are staying for now, there needs to be more work done on growing hockey in the desert. Arizona grew by 12 players from the previous year to 4,125 in 2012-13. I will probably expand more on this, but what’s interesting about Arizona is that it’s total membership still hasn’t been able to get back to its all-time high of 5,538 registered players in 2001-02. The Coyotes sparked the initial growth, but it has not been fostered sufficiently enough to sustain it.
Hawaii — The smallest hockey state in the U.S., Hawaii has 12 players registered with USA Hockey, all adults. They didn’t gain any players in 2013, but they didn’t lose any either, so way to go, Hawaii!
Top 15 States by Hockey Participation in 2012-13
1. Minnesota — 53,935
2. Michigan — 51,929
3. New York — 48,544
4. Massachusetts — 46,716
5. Pennsylvania — 30,314
6. Illinois — 27,638
7. California — 24,126
8. New Jersey — 18,264
9. Wisconsin — 17,538
10. Ohio — 14,430
11. Connecticut — 13,325
12. Colorado — 13,322
13. Florida — 11,924
14. Texas — 11,861
15. Maryland — 9,159
Expect more U.S. hockey growth posts this summer, including a big one coming soon. If you’d like to know about a state that wasn’t listed, you can ask on Twitter.