Feb 17, 2023Liked by Ethan Strauss

I'm imagining the Youth Advisory Board meetings being similar to the Hooli focus groups on Silicon Valley.

"Who here thinks what Don Cherry just said is "hella lame"? Amy, Josh, Cindy, Saad, Brittney..."

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A few thoughts from a white, millennial, Canadian, son of a former NHLer:

I often find myself drawing comparisons between hockey and golf, both mostly suffer the similar fate of requiring a lot of land/space to play the sport. So right away this limits the ability for a majority of the population living in large North America cities to access the sport.

For perspective the city of Vancouver has failed to really ever produce a hockey superstar, save for Connor Bedard the upcoming #1 pick (insert longer discussion about North Vancouver being so much more rural and likely to produce NHL talent).

Also cities struggle to have enough facilities to produce great hockey/golf talent, there is 1 city rink to every 3 or 4 rural/suburban rinks. And the same is true for golf courses (at least in this region of pacific canada).

This is mostly true in Toronto, Montreal, etc. hockey talent inordinately comes from smaller suburban hotbeds and especially the prairies. From what I know golf has the similar struggle of producing talent that large population centres fully identify with, and until Tiger wood’s ascent golf was mostly consumed by white people (Americans and Europeans). Tiger’s domination has brought a lot more minority eyeballs, but when you look at the sport the demographics of those participating hasn’t really changed. I would imagine the same would be true if a minority NHL player became the next superstar.

In general I think alienating life long fans and the base of the demographic to chase after a demographic that will never really like your sport the same way is entirely foolhardy.

Just keep playing into the core fans, blast the ACDC loud and proud and accept the reality that the Phoenix coyotes are not going to succeed and neither is chasing those BIPOC eye balls.

Note - there is also greater factors to discuss surrounding financial access (hockey is CRAZY expensive)that suggest it’s just not a sport that will ever succeed against other most accessible sports. Not to mention the cultural aspects of hockey… blah blah I could go on. Anyhow appreciate the thought provoking post. Apologies for the rambling thoughts.

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Feb 17, 2023Liked by Ethan Strauss

This Substack is fucking great

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Once again, I argue that this belief that leaning into identity politics misses the usual greatest issue for many organizations - class. Plus there's the fact that teens and such aren't tuning out of sports because of race and gender but because video games are cheaper, require less work, give them agency, and are in some cases social networks on their own.

The NHL and NBA are certainly TikToking past the graveyard (pssst TikTok is loaded with video game footage! Take a hint people!)

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The 11-year-old letter writer seems completely fictional. A perfectly made up story to sell an idea, some sort of bizarro world Grievance Scholar prodigy. I just have a hard time believing even the most socially aware child is taking the time to write a letter to the league asking for more DEI.

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Maybe kinda related, I think of Ethan's line from a previous article:

"Sports leagues would prefer that their real fan be a sophisticated, highly educated, multiracial Gen Z woman who swings by the arena after leaving her downtown tech job. In reality, the real fan is more often Jersey Jerry, the Barstool lump who shat himself on a subway train."

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Two points based on my experience as the parent of Gen Z boys:

1) Most white Gen Z boys are in a backlash against woke, and these moves will further alienate them.

2) The most popular youth sport is *by far* the NFL-sponsored flag football leagues, which have the major benefit of *not* being linked to an AAU-style competitive-recruitment atmosphere. Everyone plays it on the weekend in addition to their individual high school sport specialization.

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I used to be a hockey fan, but I really haven’t watched it for a decade whereas I continue to consume a ton of content for other major sports. I am also a person of color, but I can tell you that the lack of diversity had zero to do with why I haven’t watched hockey in about a decade. It does have anything to do with scoring being at its lowest level in history and continuing to trend downwards. Instead of wasting their time with this BS, how about figuring out a way to improve the product to showcase your stars. Right now, half of the goals feel like a complete accident. In the playoffs more often than not it comes down to which team has the hotter goalie.

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"They try to hire a non-White person, specifically, in Florida, only to run into Ron DeSantis."

I think you're trying to be glib, but I contend that's a rather unfair mischaracterization of the situation. They were holding a job fair that specifically stated that you had to be a member of their self-defined protected classes. The exact text was: ""Participants must be 18 years of age or older, based in the U.S., and identify as female, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, and/or a person with a disability. Veterans are also welcome and encouraged to attend." If you want to encourage participation by those groups, that's a fantastic thing to do. But they've been captured by these religious nuts that think melanin deficiency equates to evil, and that harm will be done to those who fall somewhere on the intersectionality Venn diagram by even being in their presence.

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Feb 20, 2023Liked by Ethan Strauss

Ethan ,

I would love if you would be up for a complimentary podcast whenever you publish a piece like this. As you make clear in the piece, you are coming at this as an objective outsider, not someone who lives in the hockey world. I’d love to hear this continue into a conversation with someone that is from that hockey world (journalist-not some NHL employee) to flesh out the things you write about.

I think almost every piece you write could benefit from this kind of “debrief” with a specialist to compliment your sports generalist approach.

- Happy subscriber and GO CANES!

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All I can say is that this assessment doesn't square with my experience as a hockey dad or hockey fan.

Warm parts of the US are some of the best (and growing) markets for hockey in the country. The Phoenix area is a youth hockey hotbed. ASU is nationally ranked. Miami, Tampa, and North Carolina (which is hosting an outdoor game in a 50K+ seat football stadium tomorrow night) are thriving.

When I go to local rinks in suburban DC, I see robust girls programs and significant ethnic diversity that reflects the local area (in contrast to my sister's kids' program in the Hudson Valley). That's good, right?

How is the NHL's signaling to these kids and their families that they should feel welcome a bad thing? A decade ago, it wouldn't be uncommon to hear a gay slur directed at a player at a Caps game. Today, that's very uncommon. Again, a good thing that is a sign of societal progress.

A predominantly white fanbase isn't inherently bad. But it is bad when it becomes hostile to other things. I see more people of color at NHL games today than I did as a kid. I think the NHL's inclusion efforts play at least some role. And as you point out, the other problem with an inherently white fanbase is that it doesn't keep up with the demography of the country (or the metropolitan areas where the teams are located). When the NHL looks at its relative lack of diversity compared to all the other major sports, they likely consider that as an issue.

The NHL's main problems come down to the fact that it's a tough sport to just pick up without significant means unless you live somewhere frigid and it's something that everyone just does; coupled with problem you enumerate about young people not watching much sport on TV other than football. The NHL seems to be trying hard to combat the participation issue with "Learn to Play". programs in which equipment is highly subsidized. But it's very hard to compete with basketball and soccer whose participation costs are much lower.

I don't think the NHL's underlying issues are going away, but also don't see much downside to trying to expand the tent.

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Maybe black people must be getting exhausted after sp many years of being pushed into every profession and hobby?

Like hey - I don't want to be a data engineer with a podcast who watches hockey and plays golf on the weekend

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Feb 17, 2023·edited Feb 17, 2023

I find it interesting that NHL.com's Community section includes (what I consider) many worthwhile efforts to grow the sport, such as the "united by hockey" touring museum exhibit, "Hockey For Everyone", a directory of places across North America where kids can start learning to play hockey, and so on.

And YET - the actual Community link doesn't go to any of those pages! It routes specifically and only to the Diversity and Inclusion Report. Which is perhaps the least actionable element of NHL community outreach!

I want hockey to be more income-accessible. I want hockey to grow in and reflect the communities it serves. I don't want cheap talk over actual action that can give everyone a chance to experience this game.

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When ESS brought up the committee of teenagers advising the NHL my mind immediately drifted to the The Simpsons Who Shot Mr. Burns when the students and faculty line up to give advice on how Springfield Elementary should spend their new oil money, and the Monorail episode where the town also gives suggestions on how to spend their money.


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It’s weird how sports leagues become so obsessed with attracting non-fans. While I understand that you always want to be growing your customer base, the risk of alienating your core fans is so much greater.

I’m a supporter of MLS and their recent contract with Apple got so many fans up in arms. Many felt that they were essentially resigning themselves to never attracting casual fans who might happen to stumble onto a match while channel surfing which is so silly (like that still happens).

The league has been around since ‘96. If people were interested, they would have found it already and even if they just heard about it, they could still attend a match in person which is another way to attract people. Plus, the new deal made it easier for their hard core fans to consume their product.

This obsession with continuous growth is forcing business to make poor decisions long term.

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“ Browning hails the project as a “gift that keeps on giving,” revealing that the idea was born out of a letter she received from an 11-year old girl and keen NHL fan, Sabrina Solomon, soon after being appointed as chief marketing officer five years ago. Impressed by her creativity, Browning invited Solomon to present some of her ideas to the league.”

This only confirms my suspicions that these woke folks are stuck in a state of arrested development, utterly incapable of critical thinking, mired in the logic of, literally, an 11 year-old.

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