Hockey fans throughout the social media sphere were up in outrage on Monday afternoon when the Twitter account representing the hockey agent/PR firm Uptown Sports proclaimed statements against gay marriage. Representatives from the firm ended up on sports radio in Toronto, Canada Monday night further talking about their view.
Uptown Sports has a small stable of NHL players it represents, including Mike Fisher, the husband of American Idol winner and country music sweetheart, Carrie Underwood.
Aside from the moral argument for gay marriage (because gay or straight, everyone deserves the right to have someone to argue with over what to have for dinner and putting your shoes in the boot tray), there are statistical and marketing reasons why those who don’t agree with gay marriage may want to keep their thoughts personal. From a statistical perspective, hockey businesses of any kind may need to stay away from an anti-gay marriage perspective.
Statistically, NHL fans are notable in two areas: the high number of them who are quite active online, and the number of them who have a college degree or higher. According to Sports Business Daily, in 2010, 14.9% of NHL fans admitted to spending 20 hours or more per week on the Internet, more than any other of the major North American sports. According to Experian Media in late 2009, NHL fans are more likely than non-NHL fans to earn a college degree or higher.
Additionally, both Sports Business Daily and Experian Media show a growth point within the 18-34 year old age range. 33.4% of NHL fans are within that age range.
So what do these numbers have to do with gay marriage? Because these growth points within NHL fan demographics (these points being those that the NHL has over its sports league peers) are also demographic strong holds within the gay marriage debate. According to the Pew Research Forum in 2010, 53% of 18-30 year olds support gay marriage. Also, 52% of college graduates and above support gay marriage.
Though statistics are difficult to come by, there are studies that suggest that those who don’t feel strongly on either side of the gay marriage debate are less likely to be online. Thus, if hockey fans are spend the most time online of all sports fans, they are the least likely among sports fans to be what the Pew Research Center calls a “tune-out,” someone who doesn’t have a feeling on the topic. Thus, hockey fans most likely have a strong feeling on the topic on either side of the debate.
So look where all of those statistics overlap? In the NHL, your key populations – the one those involved in the business operations side of hockey want to encourage – align with a segment of a population that will statistically most likely support gay marriage.
Thus, anyone who represents a player or a fan-oriented product is doing themselves a demographic disservice if they publicly promote an anti-gay marriage agenda. More so than in the other major North American sports, NHL fans will more likely fall in the pro-gay marriage camp, and paired with their high level of internet usage, are more apt to be active in sharing their views with others and adopting online activism.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this anecdotal piece of evidence. The popularity of college hockey continues to grow year after year. With that growth, college hockey has become a gateway to NHL fandom within a population not exposed to the sport previously. Geographically, college hockey fandom continues to grow in New England, a region with great traditions in the sport, a recent history of national success…and one of the nation’s highest levels of support for gay marriage.