The Stanley Cup Effect: When the Local Team Wins, So Does Amateur Hockey (UPDATED)

The best trophy in all of sport will be awarded in Vancouver, B.C., tonight. For the players who hoist the Stanley Cup, a dream is realized and immortality is gained. There’s also a lot to gain for the local hockey communities of each team as well.

When the local team wins the Stanley Cup, there’s a buzz about hockey. The excitement surrounding the team leads to excitement surrounding the game. All of the sudden, people want to like hockey. They want to become fans. They’re hooked.

Since the Cup will go to one of two already hockey-adoring cities, the impact may not be as profound in Vancouver or Boston as some of the previous Cup-winning cities. Nonetheless, it gives hockey a boost in the public eye and perhaps some local folks who haven’t warmed up to the game start looking at it a little differently.

There are very easy indicators of the Stanley Cup’s impact on a city. You can easily look at season ticket sales, which would undoubtedly go up. We’ll probably see better television ratings in the local markets during the regular season next year, and so on.

However, if you read this blog regularly, you know that I prefer to talk in terms of how the NHL has helped grow the game in the United States from a hockey membership standpoint. To me, that tells us just how influential the local NHL team is becoming. And when you have that big silver chalice floating around your city, that’s as influential as it gets.

In most cases, a state’s hockey membership spiked after the Stanley Cup was won by the NHL team in that state. Coming up after a jump, a look at the most notable instances of The Stanley Cup Effect in the last 20 years.

Starting with recent memory first, the Pittsburgh Penguins played for the Stanley Cup in both 2008 and 2009. The results couldn’t have been better for hockey in Western Pennsylvania. Lucky for me, USA Hockey splits Pennsylvania in two, tracking membership in both the East and West separately, as the two are in separate USA Hockey districts.

The Penguins lost to the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 in six games. However, with an exciting team and the game’s biggest star, the Pens were on the cusp of something special.

In the 2007-08 season, there were 8,986 registered amateur hockey players in Western Pennsylvania. After a runner-up season, membership rose to 9,512. So the influence was beginning to show.

In 2009, Sidney Crosby earned his first Cup and the third for the city of Pittsburgh. The 2009-10 hockey season showed immediate results for Western Pennsylvania as membership spiked by over 1,000 members to 10,866. That’s a 20% increase over the two years in which the Penguins reached the Stanley Cup Final.

The Stanley Cup Effect could just as easily be called the Sidney Crosby Effect in Pittsburgh, but the most notable increase in Western PA’s membership came when Crosby attached a championship to his accomplishments. (As a side note, Eastern Pennsylvania’s membership has grown by over 1,000 members from 2008-2010).

Let’s go back a ways now. All the way back to the 1990s. The late 1990s. Remember those?

The Dallas Stars defeated the Buffalo Sabres in six games to win the Stanley Cup in thrilling, if not controversial, fashion in 1999. The impact of that team’s success was felt in a big way the following season.

There were 5,932 amateur hockey players in Texas in the 1998-99 season. The following year, membership grew to 7,060, an increase of 1,128 members (19.2%) in just one year. The Stanley Cup win set the wheels in motion for continued growth in Texas, which now boasts 10,909 registered hockey players across the state.

Sticking with a Southern expansion theme… We’ll bounce back to the more recent past.

The Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006. During the 2005-06 season, there were 4,793 registered hockey players in North Carolina. After the team’s first Stanley Cup? Membership grew to 5,726, a 19.7% increase from the previous season.

The year after Carolina brought home its first Cup, the Anaheim Ducks captured the first NHL title for the state of California. In 2006-07, California’s hockey membership stood at 19,660. The following year, membership spiked by over 1,500 to 21,167, an all-time high for the state. It was only a 7% increase, but it was one of the largest for California since the initial boom brought by Wayne Gretzky’s arrival in L.A.

There are few more famous Stanley Cup teams than the 1994 New York Rangers. Most sports fans remember Mark Messier lifting the Stanley Cup jubilantly, and who could forget that ticker tape parade?

That team’s epic seven-game series with the Vancouver Canucks came at a time when the U.S. was really beginning to take to hockey. The game’s popularity was soaring and having the Stanley Cup in the country’s largest city was manna for the NHL.

New York was always a great hockey state, but it really took off in the early 1990s. The Stanley Cup came smack dab in the middle of it all. In the 1994-95 season, New York saw a 4,113-player increase in membership.

Between 1990 and 1999, New York’s hockey membership went from 21,232 to 47,178. In just 10 years, membership rose by 122%. It’s hard to say just how much the Rangers’ Cup win impacted a state that rose so dramatically in a 10-year period, but it certainly helped the cause.

The numbers aren’t in yet to see just how much of an impact the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup last season did for hockey membership in Illinois. However, the excitement the team built up the year before would indicate a serious boom for the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois coming with the 2010-11 figures.

USA Hockey unveiled the numbers for it’s 2010-11 season earlier Wednesday afternoon.

In the season preceding Chicago’s Stanley Cup win, the team made it all the way to the Western Conference Final and built a local buzz that was undeniable. From 2008-09 to 2009-10, membership rose by 2,064 players (21,954 to 24,018). The buzz generated around the team was Stanley-Cup like.

Now that Chicago has its first Cup since 1961, I would not be in the least bit surprised to see a similar increase, if not even bigger for the 2010-11 season.

UPDATED: In 2010-11, hockey player membership increased by another 2,510 players. So in the last two seasons, Illinois has seen 20.8% growth and is at an all-time high for membership of 26,528. (More info to come soon).

USA Hockey’s 2010-11 numbers can be found here. I’ll have a full post on the numbers tomorrow, as it was a banner year for growth in the United States.

The two teams battling it out for the Cup tonight likely won’t have the same kind of impact these other teams had, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be at least some amount of the Stanley Cup Effect in either town.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs offer some of the best theater in all of professional sport. The solid TV ratings and general buzz I’ve seen on social media and in the news will all play a role.

Even if only a handful of kids pick up sticks and lace up skates because they got hooked on the game after watching these playoffs, then it’s working. Someone new found the game.

The NHL has a profound impact on hockey in this country and tonight, the league gets the best three-hour commercial it could ask for.

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To learn more about USA Hockey’s membership statistics, click here.

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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.
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