DENTON, Texas (UNT) — Soccer and American football are consistently ranked among the top sports in the world, with an estimated 4 billion soccer enthusiasts globally and a projected revenue of more than $13 billion for the NFL in 2016. In contrast, ice hockey – the most popular winter sport in the world – generates less than a third of the NFL’s revenue with $4.1 billion annually for the National Hockey League. Researchers at the University of North Texas are teaming up with some of the biggest names in hockey to change that.
“The big question for the global growth of the sport is how do we expand, get and keep more hockey fans,” said John Nauright, professor and chair of the Department of Kinesiology, Health Promotion and Recreation.
Nauright will be joined by Young Hoon Kim, an associate professor in the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, at the World Hockey Forum Dec. 15–17 in Moscow. The goal is to highlight openings that can give hockey a shot at becoming an international powerhouse sport.
Nauright and Kim will be the only presenters from Texas. Their panel will showcase the Dallas-Fort Worth area as a model for success, and they will share recruitment, retention and event-planning strategies that can help hockey expand into nontraditional areas like Texas. The National Hockey League first came to Texas in 1993, when the Minnesota North Stars became the Dallas Stars, and hockey was first introduced to state high schools in 1997, when four schools in the North Texas region began offering programs, according to ESPN.
“From tourism and customer loyalty aspects, sports enthusiasts in Texas grew up with football and baseball everywhere, with big support from their schools and families. Ice hockey is different,” said Kim.
The conference will bring together some of the biggest players, executives and academics in the field – including Hockey Hall of Fame legends Phil Esposito, Jari Kurri and Vladislav Tretiak; hockey great Teemu Selänne; René Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation; and Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. Attendees will discuss the growth of grassroots games; women’s hockey; sledge or sled hockey, which is designed for those with physical disabilities; and social and cultural events and tourism activities related to the sport.
Nauright agreed that more can be done to help hockey gain ground – both internationally and locally.
“There are huge growth opportunities for the regional economy. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is one of the fastest growing areas for tourism, sports and events management,” said Nauright.