Technical Corner

1982 - Ice Rental Skates in Canada – Never! 2022 – Maybe! We Need to Look at Rental Skates to Build Business?

July 25, 2022

I can recall one of my first trips into the United States (early 2000) with our training partner Serving The American Rinks (STAR) (now the U.S. Ice Rink Association) and seeing “rental skates” at a rink. I thought, very different as every Canadian kid had a pair of skates hanging on a nail in the garage or basement. Maybe my first clue to Ontario changing demographics was also missed on this side of the border when ORFA Board member Grant Worgan from Scarborough shared that it was somewhat entertaining watching the growing population of new Canadians arriving at their rinks with new (unsharpened) skates still in the box at public skating.

A recent inquiry from the UK posted in the ORFA online Discussion Board [more] asked “we were wondering if any of your contacts/members have experience in using a specific brand of rental skates that could give recommendations/feedback on the skates to make an informed decision since there are no rinks in the UK that have purchased these skates”. This inquiry aligned with several hockey leagues advertising (aggressively) for referees and prompted some thought regarding how things at a Canadian rink have changed in my time in the industry.

In my observations, referee's were often spawned as kids self determined that they may not be able to handle a puck but their skating skills were exceptional. They went down a different sport pathway. But with so many kids dropping out of sport early or not playing at all - now there is a severe shortage of refereeing officials. Now, the ice skate rental business should not be a huge shift in the thought process. I can recall at the start of my career, the boxes of “roller skates” arriving at the recreation complex each spring and boxing them up and returning them each fall. We have watched as some rinks actually got into renting head gear for different sports. Again, I look back at my time with STAR (USIRA) and recall conversations with then COO, Pat Kelleher, who has since moved to the top administrative position at USA Hockey, on their efforts to “build the game” in every state. The U.S. had some very hot beds of hockey culture in the northern states but with the expansion by the NHL into the deep south and to the west in the U.S., USA Hockey needed more kids to pick up a hockey stick. They were investing heavily in “how to grow the game” – they were not focused on wins and loss but rather, the game itself.

Fun fact, Auston Taylour Matthews is an American professional ice hockey center and alternate captain for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League. Born in San Ramon, California, Matthews, and his family moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, when he was an infant – is a product of that USA Hockey investment. The USA Hockey investment in the grass roots more than 20-years ago has met their original goals and they remain focused on growing the game.

Registration for sanctioned Canadian hockey programs fell to its lowest number in almost a decade in 2019, as a pandemic mixed with worrying trends to leave Hockey Canada searching for ways to keep existing players on the roster, while also attracting new families to the game. Almost 38,000 fewer players signed up to skate in 2019-20, according to the national governing body’s latest annual report, and that represents a six percent drop from the previous year. The total number of players (605,963) reached its lowest point since 2010-11. [more

ORFA members share that many are unable to fill a week of ice rentals as interest in ice sports is dwindling. There are lots of reasons that Canada’s traditional ice sports no longer attract the numbers they once did. Consider that “Rep and Select teams begin as early as 5 in some associations. Standings and player statistics are published online from Rep to House League. Parents have even created online forums to rate players, teams, and coaches. House league teams, as young as tyke, will be in the midst of playoffs in but a few weeks”. [more]

Nearly three quarters of Canadians — 73 per cent — agree, saying that children's sports have become too focused on winning at the exclusion of fun and fair play, according to the study. There was a time when hockey was October to February. Now you have spring hockey and summer hockey and conditioning camps according to Karri Dawson, True Sport Foundation. [more] The most recent scandal of “Canada's national pastime that resulted in the loss of three major sponsors following an alleged sexual assault scandal has not helped grow the game. [more]

Many years ago (circa 1998) while at a NOMRA conference, Dr. David K. Foot was a guest speaker.  After some early works on macro-econometrics, Foot turned his attention to economic demography. His research focuses on the impact of demographics on economics, especially as pertaining to the aging of the baby boomers. He argues that demographic shifts tend to have important social and economic consequences that are often neglected by policy makers, including aspects such as the changing patterns in crime, leisure activities and school enrollment. In his own words, demographics explains "two-thirds of everything". A non-technical summary of his research on Canadian demographics was presented in his 1996 book Boom Bust & Echo: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Shift, co-authored with journalist Daniel Stoffman. [more]

Bluntly, Dr. Foot stated to stop building rinks as boomers would never use them – he was somewhat off on the prediction, and he did not vision the demographic of the “millennials” and how they would impact our business. However, it was our first lesson on the importance of data collection to determine where it is we need to be headed.

So, what does this all of this have to do with skate rentals? Ice sports in many communities are at a crossroad. If we do not get kids off their keyboards and back in the rinks, pools, and fields we are not only going to possibly lose many local rinks, but we are creating a bigger health care crisis than how the baby boomers are pressurizing our health care system – remember, most boomers are “ParticipACTION” kids. I am not suggesting that  skate rentals are going to save the industry, I am however suggesting that there needs to be more open discussion on what our future will look like. I did send the UK inquiry along to USIRA staff as they would be better positioned to assist. In my opinion, I suggest we are 20-years behind our neighbours to the south in the business of ice sports.

Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Technical Director, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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