Immigration and wide-ranging entertainment choices are to blame for a waning interest in professional hockey by Canadian teens, suggests research done in Alberta.

The percentage of teens who say they follow the National Hockey League closely has dropped from 45 per cent to 35 per cent since 1992, according to the survey of more than 5,500 teens.

"What these findings point to is the fact that the entertainment choices of young people and the rest of us have exploded," said author and sociologist Reginald Bibby of the University of Lethbridge.

'People have better things to do than watch hockey.'—Antoine Roberge, 15

He said if kids and their parents aren't brought up with hockey, they don't follow the game.

"Growing numbers of teens have come to Canada from countries where their sports choices have been led by soccer and basketball."

James Penner, an associate director of the study, said the NHL should have tickets that are more affordable and teams that are more competitive and entertaining to build up its teenage fan base.

The survey results are published in a new book called The Emerging Millennials.

Antoine Roberge, 15, who was skateboarding at a park in Calgary, said he only occasionally watches hockey.

"People have better things to do than watch hockey," he said.

Other sports, entertainment options

Riley Reed said the NHL lockout in 2004 turned him off hockey, and he switched to watching poker.

"The rules and the style of play: it's just not as fun as it used to be," he said.

Skateboarder Peter Dang said he and his friends spend their time skiing, snowboarding and golfing — but not playing hockey.

"Unless you're fairly well off and have parents that can support it, alternatives like skateboarding and even snowboarding is probably, I can imagine, a little bit more affordable," he said.

But Thomas Weber, a parent from southwest Germany, said interest in ice hockey in Europe is growing.

"The parents, the other people, they like sports which is very fast so ice hockey is very interesting for this because it is the fastest team game in the world," he said.

Weber was in Calgary with his sons, aged six and 12, at a summer hockey training camp. He said they usually travel to Switzerland or the Czech Republic, but his sons asked to train in Canada this year.

The teenage decline in interest extends to all other major sports leagues as well:

  • Fourteen per cent of Canadian teens say they're following the Canadian Football League (CFL), down from 22 per cent in the early 1990s.
  • Ten per cent are following Major League Baseball today, compared to  about 33 per cent of teens in the early '90s during the glory days of the Toronto Blue Jays.
  • Despite the presence of the Toronto Raptors, interest in the National Basketball Association among teens is lower today (21 per cent) than it was in the early '90s (27 per cent).
  • Interest in the National Football League among Canadian teens has dropped to 19 per cent from 26 per cent.
  • Teens were surveyed between 1992 and 2008.
  • Survey results are accurate within plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times in 20.

Source: The Emerging Millennials