SBJ/Aug. 10-16, 2015/In Depth

NHL presses to make hockey more affordable

Under the watch of Commissioner Gary Bettman, the NHL has put an increased focus on growing the game at a youth level, a strategy that is increasingly paying dividends.

“From the league standpoint and having a long-term vision for growing the sport, a focus on youth development and youth hockey is critical,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “Making hockey more accessible to more people is a direct lifeline to the future growth of the sport.”

Working alongside the NHL Players’ Association, the league has pushed forward a number of programs that support youth organizations.

Hockey is for Everyone is the league’s official youth development program, providing financial support and programming to nonprofit youth organizations across North America.

The NHLPA has its own Goals & Dreams fund which, since its 1999 founding, has contributed more than $22 million to grassroots hockey programs and causes in 33 countries, with a focus on providing equipment.

The NHL and NHLPA’s latest effort was born out of the collective-bargaining agreement signed in 2013, which created an industry growth fund. The fund, overseen by a committee of three players association representatives and four owners, has a budget of up to $60 million a year to spend on various projects. Daly said the initial direction for the fund has been to build out additional programs for youth hockey development.

A leaguewide learn-to-play program for kids ages 4 to 8 also has been recently approved, with the fund providing free equipment for anyone who signs up for the six-week program.

As most teams already have a learn-to-play program in place, Daly said the league is working on integrating them all under one brand. Also recognizing the popularity of street or roller hockey programs in certain cities, Daly said the fund has opened a process where teams can submit individual applications for funding of other programs.

The NHL and NHLPA also work with sponsor Kraft on Hockeyville, where communities compete to have their local rinks upgraded, as well as host an NHL preseason game. The program has awarded more than $2.5 million in total prize money to community hockey arenas since being introduced in 2006.

The league and the NHLPA also support the efforts of USA Hockey and Hockey Canada on increasing youth participation.

For Daly, one of the clearest examples of the impact of these programs comes every summer during the draft.

“Every year we’re seeing more kids being picked who come from what many consider nontraditional markets,” he said. “Likely, the No. 1 pick next year grew up playing hockey in Arizona, so it’s great to see the progress made.”

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