Growing up in Toronto, basic hockey knowledge was pretty much embedded into the elementary school core curriculum. I “bled blue” as they say, as I faithfully rooted for my Toronto Maple Leafs throughout my high school and college years. But as the time passed, life began to get in the way. Marriage, a job, and three children left me little time to devote to watching multiple games every week. Throw a move to Florida into that mix, and what chance would hockey really have in my life? Sure, there were hockey teams in Florida but did anyone in The Sunshine State actually care? I was about to learn of the soaring hockey popularity among women in Tampa.
We went to some Lightning games. To root against them when the Leafs came to town. But as we went, something started to happen. We had a great time, and decided to go to some more games- games where we could actually cheer for the Lightning to win! We got our season tickets. While my husband continued to put the Leafs first, the Lightning faithful won me over. My love for hockey was re-awakened and I felt so much a part of the community. One thing that really stood out to me was how much Lightning hockey was a family affair. It was popular with children, men, and somewhat surprisingly to me… hockey was popular with women here!
Women Show Their Hockey Love
Scroll through the pages of Lightning Facebook groups, and you will note that the majority of posts are from women! NHL research indicates that 37% of hockey fans are female, including 26% growth in this group since 2016. The season certainly was no exception, as frontofficesports.com reports that the NHL’s female cable TV viewership across ESPN and TNT in the U.S. rose by 61% during the 2021-2022 regular season.
How is the NHL winning over this important demographic? Why are women flocking to hockey? When it comes to the Lightning, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that we happen to have the best-looking players in the league! Walking through our malls, and driving toward Amalie Arena, we see posters plastered all around us of our handsome superstars. Who wouldn’t want to tune in to watch these guys on a regular basis?
Community is Key
As enjoyable as these men are to look at, that surely can’t be the only reason for women’s growing interest in the sport. In speaking with several female hockey fans, one word seems to keep coming up. The same word I felt as the Lightning won me over. Community.
A memory I will treasure forever was our trip to Nashville for the Winter Classic last season. The airports and the streets were lined with fans decked out in Lightning attire, greeting one another with another with calls of “Go Bolts!” We were more than just hockey fans. We were truly a community.
As a woman who had not grown up in this area, I wanted to become part of the Tampa Bay community. And with the Bolt fanbase here in Hockey Paradise, I found my opportunity. Many other women echoed this sentiment.
I believe that the players themselves feel a part of the community. Although they earn large sums of money, the NHL salaries are far less than in the other major professional sports. The Lightning players participate in family carnival days, support local businesses, and promote hockey in our schools. They also host the best boat parades! They truly seem to love playing here, and that makes us feel as though as we are all part of the Lightning community.
A Family Affair
Along with community comes family. Hockey is a sport the whole family can watch together (drunk Kucherov celebrations aside). We treasure moments like watching Ryan McDonagh’s 5-year-old daughter as the “Thunderkid”, skating around the ice during the pregame of Game 3 of the quarterfinal, then standing next to her dad for the national anthem. We love seeing Steven Stamkos leave an interview early during the all-star weekend because he has to take his 2-year-old son on a Zamboni ride. And who can forget the adorable images of Blake Coleman placing his baby girl inside the 2021 Stanley Cup? Those tender family moments definitely resonate with female fans.
Another common reason for the popularity of hockey among the women I spoke to was the level of excitement in a hockey game. It’s never boring. It’s fast-paced with beautiful plays up and down the ice. We marvel at the players’ skills, skating abilities, and hockey IQ. Sometimes, we can even appreciate goals by the opposing team, as they showcase their skills. Hockey can be a beautiful game to watch.
Why did I join the Lightning faithful while my husband remained loyal to the Leafs? Perhaps, the answer can be found in a University of Michigan study from 1997, headlined, “’Belonging’ means more to women than to men.” Through the study, nursing Professor Bonnie M. Hagerty concludes that, “being able to say ‘I belong’ is important to the healthy psychological functioning of men, but it is vital to women’s.” The community involvement of the players and the unwavering support of the fanbase here in the Tampa Bay area provide this vital opportunity. Being part of the Lightning faithful allows me to proudly say, “I belong!”
With so much going on in the world around us, everyone needs an escape from time to time. More and more, women seem to be tuning into hockey as their escape. With the sense of belonging and community, quality family moments, heart-pounding action, and amazing talent on display- not to mention, the attractive men- hockey popularity with women really is no wonder. The countdown is on, Ladies… next hockey season begins on October 7th… let’s see what the Bolts have in store for us!
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