Are the Days of Hockey Being Canada’s No.1 Sport Numbered?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

North America is famous for having a rich and diverse love of sports that differs from much of the world. Soccer is the world’s most popular sport with an estimated 1 billion fans and hundreds of millions of active participants. It is particularly popular in Europe and South America.

And while Canada does have a passion for soccer, the number one sport is hockey. The NHL (National Hockey League) has seven teams from Canada and approximately 36% of Canadians follow the sport closely.

Ice hockey is so popular that it became the national winter sport of Canada in 1994 after the bill C-121 passed. Hockey is not only the most popular spectator sport in Canada, but it is also the most popular participation sport with more than 1.3 million people taking part. In fact, a 2021 study found that 93% of Canadians considered hockey to be part of their Canadian identity, and it is also popular among gamblers in the country.

Alberta residents are considered the biggest hockey fans in the country with 44.7% following the sport. Quebec is next on the list with 37.9% and the four provinces of Atlantic Canada are third with 37.7%.

However, when you look at the popularity of hockey among younger Canadian generations, there could be cause for concern that popularity is on the dip. 21.8% of 18- to 24-year-olds follow hockey. This makes it the most popular sport but is significantly below the average for the country. The second most popular sport for this age group is basketball, which is followed by 17.6%, and soccer is third with 12.4%.

The change in habit has been attributed to a range of causes including immigration and the celebrity status associated with the biggest stars of both basketball and soccer.

The recent move of arguably the best footballer in history, Lionel Messi, to the MLS franchise Inter Miami has improved the popularity of soccer in North America. The huge social media following of stars like Messi and LeBron James makes these sports more accessible to younger generations.

Despite this rise in popularity among younger generations, the NBA and MLS are still the fifth and sixth most followed leagues in Canada with 13% and 9% of spectators following them, respectively.

With 20% of Canadians following the NFL and 16% following the CFL, football remains in second place as the most popular sport in the country. Baseball comes in third, with 16% of Canada’s sports fans tuning in to MLB games regularly.

Online streaming of sports, access to a range of sports betting markets, and the popularity of individual stars appear to be making a dent in the popularity of the NHL, but it could be some time before we see it knocked off its perch.

It will take a big event to help turn the tide and encourage younger generations to embrace the national sport again. This June saw the 30-year anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens lifting the Stanley Cup. This was the last time a Canadian team won hockey’s most coveted prize.

A Stanley Cup victory this year could help hockey in Canada slow its gradual decline in popularity. Thankfully, many Canadian bookmakers on a list of updated rankings are offering odds for the 2024 Stanley Cup that predict the Maple Leafs and the Oilers will be strong contenders. You can expect odds of around +1100 for both teams at present, making them joint-second favourites, but only time will tell if these predictions can come true and bring a resurgence in hockey’s popularity with them.

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