The recent flurry of snowy weather in Ottawa may tease stick-and-puck enthusiasts with just a few more days of shinny, but March has traditionally been the end of the minor hockey season. It is also the time when hockey parents look back and ask themselves, “I paid how much to play Canada’s game?”
Hockey can be a prohibitively expensive sport. Along with time commitment and health concerns, high equipment costs and league fees are reasons many give to explain Canada’s declining number of minor hockey players.
The key to saving money on hockey equipment is to determine when to buy it and what pieces to splurge on.
A new, just off the production line, one-piece composite stick, such as the incoming CCM RBZ, retails for $299.99. The new Bauer Vapor APX2 skate, the hottest skate on the market and available for pre-order, is $849.99. Even by skimping over the high-end products, racking up over $1,000 for a full set of hockey equipment isn’t out of the ordinary.
Buyers have to understand the hockey equipment market is an oligarchy. Bauer Performance Sports Ltd., Easton-Bell Sports and Rebook International Limited dominate the market. (CCM, one of the most well known brands, was acquired by Reebok in 2004.) There is little discrepancy in price between the different brands but certainly in models within those brands.
But going cheap doesn’t mean strapping on steak knives to your sneakers and calling it a day. There are full equipment kits for children just starting hockey available for less than $200, but it’s generally not recommended.
“As a rule of thumb, it’s better to go piece by piece,” says Ralph MacLean, the manager of Valiquette’s Source for Sports in Ottawa. “There’s always something in the kit that does not fit. Always. Never fails.”
THE BUSINESS OF PRICE POINTS
Another tip MacLean gives is to be wary of what you should spend most of your money on. The most important pieces are helmet and skates. If they don’t fit properly, it may hinder a child’s hockey development or cause injury.
“I compare hockey gloves to buying a car,” says MacLean. “It’s the Cadillac and you’ll always tend to spend money on hockey gloves [to show off]… when they should be spending the extra money on the skates and helmet.”
Hockey equipment prices are based on price points, a price set to keep the demand high. In the past, skates have only been available at two or three prices, but with a wider selection of equipment than before, it allows for more price points.
Bauer’s “A Fit for Every Player” campaign was designed to give consumers a wider breadth of products. Bauer has three skate models, Supreme, Vapor and Nexus, and within each model there are five or six different price points.
“In most cases, the price points have beenaround for awhile and are somewhat dictated by the marketplace,” says Craig Desjardins, the general manager of equipment at Bauer. “The reality is, we fully understand that there’s different levels of play.” For the most part, the price points have not changed over the past 15 years, says Desjardins.
Nexus, Bauer’s newest line, comes in five different models, all at different price points. Bauer’s wide selection, as well as its emphasis on research and development, has pushed other brands off the shelf. More than half the players in the NHL wear Bauer skates. MacLean no longer stocks Easton skates on his shelves anymore.
PRODUCTION CYCLE AND SALES
Hockey sticks, of which MacLean estimates he sells around 3,000 per year, arethe most widely purchased hockey equipment because of the relatively short shelf life. There are many more price points for sticks than there are for other pieces of equipment.
“$179 is the rule of thumb [for price points in sticks],” says MacLean. “It doesn’t sell. People will jump from $159 to $199, but $179 is in the middle of nowhere. Although sticks usually come at price points in $20 increments, the quality between a $159 stick and a $199 stick is large enough for people to splurge on the $199.
New models of hockey equipment are usually released in early summer and put in production for two years. Once a stick is in its second year of release, it becomes much cheaper, usually by a third of the price, going from $299 to $199. And, unlike old wood sticks, composite sticks don’t deteriorate, meaning that even if the stick has been on the shelf for more than five years, it will still feel like a brand new stick.
“April 15 is usually our target date to launch,” says Desjardins. “Either you have a lot of leagues ending or summer hockey’s about to begin. As you get back to school, you have that focal action available at the marketplace.”
SALES IN EVERY SEASON
There are no “summer sales” when it comes to hockey equipment. Sales are usually determined store to store, not by season.
“We tend to sell the most from the second week of August right through the whole month of September, and then again from December 10 right through to the end of January,” says MacLean. August and September coincide with the start of the minor hockey season, while December and January is usually the time when elite players often invest in a new pair of skates. Because of the high traffic, it’s when MacLean has most of his sales.
Like any business, the hockey equipment market has had to adapt to online shopping. “There’s been a big discrepancy in pricing, for a number of years, between Canada and the U.S.,” says MacLean. In the past, due to Canada’s taxes, hockey equipment was cheaper in the U.S. Many Canadians were buying equipment online from American sites and getting it shipped to the border where they could pick it up, saving them sales tax in the process. That practice will likely soon by changing.
On March 21, the federal government announced in its 2013 budget that tariffs would be taken off hockey equipment. Though the change is unlikely to affect retail prices for hockey equipment, it’s still too early to see what impact will have.