Saturday, 1 March 2014

Sport: Can British Ice Hockey Capitalise On The Olympics?

So the Winter Olympics has been and gone, and hours of spent watching Curling and Ice Hockey now have to be reallocated to actually doing work. It's no secret that participation in sport tends to peak after major sporting events, with London's Olympic Games showing just how much people can be inspired to get involved.

So can Ice Hockey replicate this, and get more people into the game?

Of course it can. It's unlikely that England is ever going to be 'hockey mad' but it's already the biggest indoor sport in the UK, and third only to football and rugby union in winter sports. The Russia vs USA game in the Olympics pulled in a television audience of 1.72m (I think). Plus the Elite League is now carried by Premier Sports along with the NHL. So there's a solid base there, and if there was any time to push then it's probably now.

Premier Sports is great, but it means that only people already interested in the product is going to buy it. Yes, there may be a few new fans who bought PS for something other than ice hockey but it's minimal. Alas I can't find any statistics on the attendance at Speedway events but I wonder how much of an effect that Sky's backing of the sport has had. The 2013 season had dire viewing figures and it's something that I'm sure ice hockey could exploit. That said the seasons obviously differ so it's not as easy as a straight swap, and with the contracts tied up by PS I doubt it'll happen any time soon but some form of ice hockey on Sky would be a huge boost to the sport. Especially with the possibility of a British team being in the CHL, what better place to start than there? An article from 1998 shows what kind of effect TV has on the sport.

I agree with the points made in Rob McGregor's blog post that argues that British teams should stop targeting families. Of course, families should be welcome at games - and the more the merrier - but if you look at Europe, the KHL (and the two minutes of the SHL that I've watched) the atmosphere is like a football match. The best bit about atmosphere is that it encourages other people to show up, it's a beautiful cycle. It wouldn't be too hard to designate certain areas 'family areas' with the the rowdier crowd situated elsewhere. The sport over here isn't expensive to watch, especially for students with most club's charging under £10. Compare that to the non-league football match I went to recently, Nuneaton vs Luton, where I had to pay £12 and you realise how good the value is.

One of the things I think would help is for teams to have some way of streaming games. Coventry Blaze's online streams cost £8 to view, which is extortionate and probably need to be changed - unless it actually works - and other teams - like MKL (who are playing in Coventry this year) - who have comprehensive highlights of their matches online surely can find some way of streaming the match live. As well as - hopefully - getting people interested with the English leagues it should also be a handy little revenue stream for British clubs.

On the plus side teams like Nottingham Panthers attendances are slowly increasing. My own team, Bracknell Bees, have seen a 30% increase in people through the doors and broke the long-standing EPIHL attendance record at their home game with Guildford Flames. So there's some positive signs there.

Plus, one of the best matches in the Olympics was the Gold Medal match in the women's competition. If that's not enough to inspire anybody then I don't know what is but hopefully it'll mean a lot more girls wanting to get involved in the sport.

I'm not going to get involved in saying how the English leagues should be structured because I honestly don't have that answer, but I do know that whenever I introduce somebody to ice hockey it tends to be a positive reaction, all that needs to be done is to show people that! Although Belfast are running away with the Elite League in the EPIHL anybody can beat anybody and that makes for some exciting games of hockey. Especially with both Basingstoke and Manchester topping the table with 66 points, and Guildford just behind that with 58 - having dipped post-Christmas. At the other end of the table the battle for the play-offs is just as tense with a few teams not safe.

DEFEND BRITISH HOCKEY, or something equally as pop-punk.

No comments:

Post a comment