shifting demographics and the effect on the future of hockey and the NHL

Capitol Hill Policy Briefing: Shifting Demographics and Hockey’s Future

Hosted by the National Hockey League and the Congressional Hockey Caucus

WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 17, 2018) - The NHL and the Congressional Hockey Caucus hosted a lunch event in Washington D.C. to highlight NHL’s work with the Brookings Institution to analyze the demographic shifts in the United States and how that will impact the future of the NHL. A representative for the National Sporting Goods Association and Hockey Dealers Association attended the meeting and here is a report, as well as a synopsis of the NHL policy report.

Featured Speakers

  • Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton; Delegate, The District of Columbia
  • Kim Davis; EVP, Social Impact, Growth Initiatives and Legislative Affairs, NHL
  • William Frey; Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution


Congresswoman Norton kicked off the session with a few short remarks about the importance of diversity in the sport and recognizing the existing diversity. She highlighted the longevity of the Fort Dupont Ice Arena, which since 1987 has been the host of what is now the oldest minority ice hockey club in the nation. The Ice Arena will be moving to a new $20 million facility thanks to funding from the District and the Friends of Dupont Ice Arena, a nonprofit that has supported the arena for over 20 years.

Mr. Frey presented his findings regarding the demographic shifts happening in the country. The current millennial generation is more diverse than the immediately older and younger generations. As the soon to be dominant economic generation, the changes happening within society will continue to accelerate and hockey needs to keep pace. Whites are the only race dying at a faster than birth rate. Individuals identifying as two or more races are growing at a 200% rate. The health and sustainability of the sport will depend on its leaders effectively designing and implementing a culture of inclusion and acceptance.

Finally, Ms. Davis presented from the NHL’s perspective on growing diversity. She talked about how the sport is actively working to embrace millennials and to accurately portray a sport that has more minority players currently than at any prior point. They are planning to make significant efforts to capitalize on the fact that a third of NHL’s franchises are in states where racial and ethnic minorities now make up more than half the millennial population.

Twenty-four of the largest 100 metropolitan areas in the US have minority white populations. This population has a large economic impact. For example, Hispanic buying power is larger than the GDP of Mexico and African-American buying power will reach $1.5 trillion in 2021.

She concluded by highlighting the importance of engaging tomorrow’s parents on the importance of youth play. It is important that the NHL and its partners are educating and engaging current players, coaches, parents, and leaders in creating a community with a mindset towards greater diversity.

Highlights of the NHL Policy Brief

Authored by William Frey and Kim Davis

The NHL recently celebrated its centennial and diversity may become the game’s defining characteristic of the next 100 years. Sometime after 2040, there will be no racial majority in the United States. The 2020 U.S. Census is expected to show that two-fifths of the nation’s population identifies with a racial group which is not white.

The NHL is the most international of America’s four major professional leagues, with the largest percentage of players from outside North America. Hockey still has a perception as “not for some” and “only for others” but it is more important than ever that hockey and its leaders focus on the anticipated demographic and cultural changes.

Since the NHL’s first season in 1917, players have come from 42 different countries. Today’s active NHL players were born in 20 different countries. The first black player to compete in the NHL was Willie O’Ree in 1958. Slava Fetisov broke the barriers for Russian athletes in 1989 and Manon Rheaume became the first female to sign and play with an NHL team in 1992 when she briefly appeared in preseason games for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Now more players of color than ever are playing hockey. Auston Matthews, a 20-year-old Mexican American, has become one of the sport’s biggest stars. Toronto-born P.K. Subban, whose parents were born in Jamaica, became the first black player to win an individual award with the Norris Trophy in 2012-13.

America’s millennial generation (75 million) is the most diverse in American history (44 percent minority). Hockey organization leaders will need to capture the millennials to show them a unified message that “hockey is for everyone.”

Nearly one-third of NHL franchises are in U.S. states where racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half of the millennial population. The belief that minorities in the U.S. don’t have the financial capability to spend discretionary income in hockey – as a participant or a fan – is incorrect. U.S. total buying power is at $13.9 trillion in 2016 and is predicted to reach $16.6 trillion in 2021, with minority groups making the fastest gains, according to the Multicultural Economy Report from the University of Georgia Terry College of Business. U.S. Hispanic buying power is larger than the gross domestic product of Mexico, African-American buying power will increase to $1.5 trillion by 2021 and the combined buying power of blacks, Asians and Native Americans has increased 138 percent since 2000.

A significant shift in the labor force-age population will affect the activities millennial parents offer to their children. Hockey is a sport which typically is generationally shared but it will need an intentional effort to introduce the value of the game to parents who may not have played as children. Youth inactivity is also a problem with nearly one-third of children and teens being considered overweight or obese, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. According to participation data by the National Sporting Goods Association, the number of kids who play team sports declined from 49 percent in 2012 to 45 percent in 2017.

These are some of the challenges for hockey organizations as they develop communications and set up youth programming. There are strategic opportunities to promote further growth.

Cultural competency education to engage current players, coaches, parents, officials and organizational leaders to better understand cultural identities and differences will be vital. The key is to make hockey more welcoming and accommodating for all – which goes along with the NHL’s “Declaration of Principles” developed in 2017.

Youth hockey organizations also need to become more focused on promoting the values, life skills and character benefits of hockey. Participation in hockey has the opportunity to lead to improved academic achievement, increased self-esteem and a reduction in risky behavior and anxiety.

Another important opportunity is recognizing the power and potential of female participation. Youth hockey participation in the U.S. is approximately 15 percent female. Women influence $7 trillion of annual U.S. spending and multi-cultural women – expected to increase from 40 percent of the current U.S. female population to 57 percent in 2060 – have an increasing influence on culture, business and buying power.

The brief concludes that the sustainability and health of hockey will depend on those currently in the sport to design and implement a culture of inclusion and acceptance; The positive outcomes will include:

  • Closer relationships and deeper engagements with a rapidly growing minority fan base
  • Recruitment of a more diverse workforce in hockey, lending their perspectives to better serve new and existing customers and fans
  • Recognized and respected leadership positions on natural cultural and social issues – including the youth play epidemic – and in communities across North America
  • Effective engagement of more minorities in hockey participation, including a stronger ability to compete for top athletic talent of the future at the elite level