Recently, the issue of ‘Pay-to-Play’ at the Junior level has become a hot-button issue as the OJHL & CCHL Tier II Junior A Leagues in Ontario have officially announced their intention to charge players a substantive fee to play each season. From my contacts in the CCHL, it appear that the ‘minimum’ fee will be $3700 per player and teams can charge more if they so choose. I don’t want to get into a macro-economic analysis of the Junior A Model, but I do want to address this controversy over Junior Teams charging higher fees?
I’ve been working on a new Study of ‘True Hockey Costs’ for the past month or so, collecting statistical information from my Hockey Advocate Readers while verifying those numbers where possible at the Leagues or Team levels. While that study is quite comprehensive, (It compares across 8 different categories of expenses) I’ve put together a smaller but hopefully interesting analysis today that should shed some light on this pay to play issue.
This table below compares the costs to play Midget Hockey across North America. I figured that since the players discussed here (AA or AAA) are most likely the next players that will be moving on to play Tier II Junior A, it should be enlightening to see what they are currently paying to play.
Midget Fees: Major Midget, Minor Midget & AA Levels in Canada & USA
League Country Team/League Fees Additional/Extra Fees Total Fees League Description
U18AAA Elite 1 USA $10,000.00 $4,000.00 $14,000.00 USA Elite 1 Major Midget
MML U18AAAA BC Canada $7,100.00 $2,800.00 $9,900.00 BC Major Midget
GTHL U18AAA Canada $6,500.00 $1,500.00 $8,000.00 Toronto Major Midget
AMHL MML U18 Canada $3,200.00 $1,650.00 $4,850.00 Alberta Major Midget
U18 ONT Alliance AAA Canada $1,600.00 $715.00 $2,315.00 ONT Regional AAA
U18AAA USA $3,000.00 $1,500.00 $4,500.00 USA Regional AAA
U18 AAA Minor M ALB Canada $2,300.00 $2,000.00 $4,300.00 Alberta Minor Midget
U18AA USA $3,500.00 $- $3,500.00 USA AA U18
U18AA Canada $2,850.00 $1,150.00 $4,000.00 BC-AB-SK-MB Combined AA
These totals are combined averages of the 100+ surveys filled out by parents and compared to ‘official’ replies from League Officials. It only covers Player Team fees and any additional costs charged throughout the season for extra ice and tournament fees.
Here are the Facts – There are 4 totals that are important to examine:
1) Average Midget Costs – When we combine both AA & AAA costs across the board, they average out at a solid $6,151.67 price tag.
2) Regional AAA Leagues – where there is considerably less travel and certainly less costly coaching, player costs average out to a more reasonable $3,705 Per Player.
3) AA Local – Interestingly, playing a level lower at the AA Leagues level doesn’t change the yearly price tag as they compare at a $3,750 average.
4) Elite Major Midget – Lastly, considering the four Elite Major Midget AAA Leagues in North America – USA Tier 1 Elite; GTHL (Toronto); BC MML; Alberta MML – the Total Average Cost per player is $9,187.50 per season. (FYI, when all 8 categories are considered, the true costs spent by parents each year end up totally as much as $15,000 – $25,000 all-in)
So what does this all mean in terms of ‘Pay-To-Play’ at the Junior Level?
It has become abundantly clear that during their minor hockey careers, players and parents are already paying a substantial amount of money for development and ice-time.
It is fair to say that, at the elite level, families are spending a considerable sum ($9,187.50) each and every season.
To that end, you will note that these two Leagues must have done their homework as they came up with a ‘starting’ price of $3700 which not surprisingly corresponds with the average middle Tier A & AA Midget programs cost of $3750. If you are willing and already paying this amount, Junior Hockey Operators are finally demanding their pound of flesh.
New Economic Realities
Travel and ice costs have exploded in recent years quickly outpacing revenue streams of the small and medium market teams. The fact is that the traditional business revenue model of local corporate sponsorships and ticket sales only work at a certain level, in certain markets. In this new hockey business model world, owners are already concluding that in today’s world of high priced personal trainers and off-season showcases, why should one expect to pay less for better coaching and elite standard of play when they move out of minor hockey? I don’t think it takes a psychic to foresee that most, if not all Tier II leagues will implement this ‘pay-to-play’ policy in the near future.
Closing Thoughts: Future Concerns
As every elite Midget player in North America is already paying costs at extremely high levels and Junior Teams will undoubtedly expand this practice as quick as possible. If I were a parent, I wouldn’t be worrying about why ‘Pay-To-Play’. The real issue that scares me and should give parents cause to lose some sleep is this:
Once this new revenue model becomes ‘normal’, how long will it take for Tier II Leagues Owners to realize that if parents are already paying $9,187.50 per season for elite Midget hockey, wont they pay MORE for Elite Junior Development? Are $10,000-$15,000 Player fees that far away?
Far fetched? It isn’t that long ago when gasoline used to cost less then $.70 a liter and I thought that that was high, today I filled my tank at $1.43 when the supply is more abundant then ever locally. And let’s be honest, regional Academies and ‘Independent’ Pay-to-Play Leagues are already charging these rates, which are considered good value for money.
Financial change in the hockey world is a coming, for better or for worse.
***Note – Prices have ONLY gone up since this article was published. I will try to update this ASAP***