According to the Association for Canadian Studies survey, Alberta is the only part of Canada where a majority of respondents have attended an NHL game within the past five years — with 12 per cent attending 'often,' about 20 per cent attending 'occasionally,' another 20 per cent attending 'rarely,' and only 48 per cent saying they’ve 'never' watched a game from the stands since 2007.
Photograph by: Todd Korol/Reuters/Files, Postmedia News
It’s Canada’s official winter sport and has even been described as a national religion. If that’s true, then a clear majority of Canadians — about 61 per cent of the adult population — haven’t set foot in any of the country’s cathedrals of hockey for at least five years.
A new survey commissioned by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies has found that the NHL — its 2012/13 season currently in limbo due to an ongoing revenue-sharing dispute between players, team owners and the league — appears to have priced itself beyond the financial reach of many Canadians, with lower-income respondents far less likely to report having attended a game since 2007 compared with those making $80,000 or more.
The survey, which also probed the levels of pride Canadians feel when it comes to hockey, showed Albertans are most likely to consider the sport a “very important” source of that heart-swelling emotion. More than one-quarter of residents from the stomping grounds of the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers conveyed a strong sense of attachment to the game, while respondents from Quebec — home of the Montreal Canadiens and, perhaps someday again soon, the Quebec Nordiques — were at the low end of the pride scale.
Just 16 per cent of Quebecers surveyed considered hockey a “very important” source of national pride, with another 21 per cent calling it “somewhat important” for a total of 37 per cent. Along with the 26 per cent of Albertans who consider the sport a “very important” source of pride, another 24 said it was “somewhat important,” for a total of 50 per cent.
The survey, carried out during the week of Nov. 5 by the polling firm Leger Marketing, came in the midst of the NHL lockout and after various events marking the 40th anniversary of Team Canada’s victory in the famous 1972 Summit Series against the former Soviet Union — a landmark eight-game event that was decided in the final minute of the final match by Paul Henderson’s historic goal against star U.S.S.R. netminder Vladislav Tretiak.
“Commemorations for the event have not enjoyed the desired traction, with the NHL unable to open Canadian arenas to the heroes of ’72,” Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies, noted in his summary of the survey, which also included questions about whether the Summit Series still fuels Canadians’ pride in hockey.
In general, he concluded, the survey findings suggested the NHL lockout is “affecting the emotional connection Canadians make with hockey,” even making Henderson and the other “heroes” of ’72 “collateral damage” in the labour dispute among pro hockey’s current multitude of multimillionaires.
A key finding, said Jedwab, is the statistical confirmation of something commonly understood: that a night out to an NHL game is just too expensive for many Canadians.
“I probably shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised because it’s common to think of hockey as our national sport,” Jedwab told Postmedia News. “Hence, I thought the ‘hockey nation’ was more inclusive, and that its citizens would find a way to at least attend one (NHL) game over the last five years.”
Notably, Alberta is not only the country’s hotbed of hockey pride but also a hotbed of ticket-buyers for NHL games. According to the Association for Canadian Studies survey, it’s the only part of Canada where a majority of respondents have attended an NHL game within the past five years — with 12 per cent attending “often,” about 20 per cent attending “occasionally,” another 20 per cent attending “rarely,” and only 48 per cent saying they’ve “never” watched a game from the stands since 2007.
“Keep in mind the geographic diversity of the country might make it difficult for some to attend,” said Jedwab. “In Alberta, attendance is better where they have two teams and a wealthier population.”
However, he added: “The sport’s showcase seems out of reach for many Canadians — or alternatively many think that the value for money isn’t there and hence they probably prefer to watch it from their living room.”
Manitobans — who have the Winnipeg Jets to cheer for again after the team’s 2011 return to the NHL after a 15-year hiatus — might well challenge Albertans in terms of their commitment to attending NHL games. Only about 54 per cent of survey respondents from Manitoba said they haven’t attended an NHL game in the past five years, meaning at least four out 10 residents of the province have watched a game live since 2007 — most of them, presumably, doing so just last season.
About 11 per cent of the residents of B.C. — home to the Vancouver Canucks — said they attend NHL games often, but 59 per cent of the province’s respondents said they haven’t been to a game once in the past five years.
In Ontario, where the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to attract sellout crowds despite a 45-year Stanley Cup drought, about seven per cent of respondents said they attend NHL games often while 62 per cent said they haven’t watched a game in person since 2007.
Only about three per cent of Quebec residents said they attend NHL games often and 61 per cent said they haven’t been to a game in the past five years.
While income is clearly a factor in terms of attendance at NHL games, economic factors are not significant when it comes to feeling pride in the sport, the survey indicated.
And about 40 per cent of all Canadians said the country’s victory over the Soviet Union in the 1972 series remains an important source of pride for the country.
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