Decline in youth hockey registration plummeting arena usage in CK

The ice at the Chatham Memorial Arena. (File photo by Ricardo Veneza)

Arena usage in Chatham-Kent is on a steep decline and the trend looks to continue for the foreseeable future.

According to a report from the municipality, the ten arenas in Chatham-Kent idle for an average of 41 per cent of the available ice time. The number ranges pretty dramatically with Bothwell’s arena going unused 73 per cent of the time, while Blenheim’s arena is only unoccupied 24 per cent of the time it’s available.

The lack of arena usage directly correlates to the decline in hockey registration. The report states that between 2011 and 2016, all age groups between five and 24 use the arenas less with the biggest decline being between 15 and 19-year-olds, down 13 per cent.

The report stated multiple reasons for the decline but the biggest is the current cost of hockey for families. The average hockey parent spent just under $3,000 for the 2011-12 minor hockey season. That number jumped significantly to between $8,000 and $15,000 for parents looking to put their kids into AAA hockey for a season. According to Hockey Canada, only one in 10 Canadians between five and 19 years old are playing hockey.

The decline has forced local youth hockey organizations to amalgamate in order to stay afloat. The Chatham Girls Hockey Association saw a 17 per cent decline from 2014 to 2017 and is joining the Kent County Girls Hockey Association which saw a 31 per cent decline, the biggest of all minor hockey organizations in the municipality.

Glencoe and Bothwell, Chatham and Tilbury along with Blenheim and Ridgetown minor hockey associations have also merged due to the decrease in registration and the municipality said there could be more amalgamations as less youth get involved in the sport.

Another reason for the decline is “sedentary lifestyles,” according to the report.

“This rate is statistically higher for residents of Chatham-Kent,” the report stated. “Statistics from a Canadian Community Health Survey found that Canadian children and youth spend 8.6 hours per day: 62% of their waking hours in sedentary pursuits.”

The report cited other reasons for the decline like the rise in concussion awareness and immigrant families who don’t have a cultural connection to hockey, so they are less likely to enrol their children in the sport.

Figure skating registration, on the other hand, is actually up quite a bit in many communities. Bothwell, Chatham, Dresden and Wallaceburg have all seen increases of between 16 and 34 per cent in the sport.

The price of ice time in Chatham-Kent is one of the highest in Southwestern Ontario. When it comes to prime hours – 4 p.m. and later during the week and all day weekends – local arenas are the second most expensive in the area west of London at $226. As for non-prime hours – before 4 p.m. on weekdays – Chatham-Kent is the most expensive at $181.

According to officials with the municipality, that one of the reasons ice time at local arenas is so expensive is because lifecycle components are built into the rates. This means a portion of each payment is sent to a reserve fund to repair or upgrade the arenas. According to the municipality, it costs upwards of $800,000 to replace the floor of a rink and if there is no money saved up, a repair that big may not be affordable.

The decline in arena usage is also impacting taxpayers to the tune of almost $2 million per year. The report said it costs the municipality $4,645,577 to operate the arenas with only $2,732,350 in revenue coming back in. The municipality has to subsidize the rest, which averages out to a cost of $97 an hour.