Recently, USA Hockey released their enrollment numbers for 2013. There was significant growth of women’s hockey, with registrations by female players up 2.33% from last year. (Overall growth fell in some states, such as the economically troubled Michigan.)
Enrollment numbers are always interesting to look at, because they often reflect a growing interest in the sport, usually because of increased international visibility or because of increased team-specific visibility. For women’s hockey, the increase in visibility usually happens the year leading up to the Olympics, and the year after. As Chris Peters says, it’s not unreasonable to expect to see another bump in girls’ and women’s hockey enrollment next year, as people inspired by the Olympics join up. On the flip side, it’s unlikely that the CWHL’s slowly increasing visibility will have much of an effect on US Hockey enrollment, except possibly in the Boston area. A major stumbling block for US Hockey as it relates to the CWHL is simply limited exposure: there’s only the one American team right now.
Women’s hockey enrollment is only once piece of the women’s sports puzzle, but for the purpose of the CWHL growing as a league, it’s a pretty big one. A deepening talent pool for USA Hockey’s women’s program means that the national teams will become more competitive. There will be more competition at the collegiate level. And of course, enrollment (apart from economic problems, etc) often builds on itself. More girls playing means more awareness of the fact that girls can play hockey, and – hopefully – more butts in CWHL seats.
This also could potentially mean more CWHL attendance. I’ve said before that the CWHL’s target market probably isn’t the NHL’s, and I haven’t really changed my stance on that. But I think what a lot of people miss is that the market in question isn’t remotely a small one. Young and middle-aged men are a very large market, but so are young women and girls. I assume the CWHL will be looking at these numbers when deciding where, if anywhere, to put another American team. They might also be bringing these numbers to potential US sponsors. Hockey enrollment is a pretty good barometer for general awareness of hockey in the area; just look at the recent enrollment in Illinois, a state that’s seen virtually unprecedented success in NHL hockey recently. If you’re looking for a place where women’s hockey will have an audience, looking at places where women and girls are enrolling in hockey is definitely a good starting point.
USA Hockey 2013-2014 Total Female Players by State
Of course, there’s no guarantee these numbers will hold steady. I mentioned economic problems, and the rapidly declining participation in Michigan is a good example of that. There are a lot of factors that influence whether or not people, especially children, continue to play a team sport: equipment cost, time, potential injuries, and so on. It will be interesting to see if these numbers do indeed increase again next year, and if they hold steady after that.
Additionally, the lack of opportunities for hockey as a career almost certainly affect enrollment negatively. 17-18 participation in women’s hockey dropped 3.83% compared to the men’s 18-18 age group which dropped 1.77%.