Back to the Future NIHL Structure Confirmation
The new NIHL structure has been confirmed. As expected their will be a new tier above North 1 and South 1 next season as 10 teams will form the new league. The new league and structure is well pretty much what we had before the the collapse of the EPL.
10 teams which will be from EPL teams Basingstoke Bison, Hull Pirates, Swindon Wildcats, MK Lightning (dropping out of the EIHL), Telford Tigers, Bracknell Bees and Peterborough Phantoms will be joined by London or Romford Raiders (who also used to play in the EPL) and a new team in the yet to be completed Leeds ice rink.
I understand the frustrations of the bigger teams in the NIHL who have had some uncompetitive matches against much weaker opposition and change is needed. At the same time a structure needs to be complimentary and help keep sides stable. I am not convinced this does as it appears to be so similar to the previous efforts.
In the old EPL following the collapse of the BNL the league was far from stable. Of the rinks making up the new league Telford and Bracknell both hit issues and relied on fan bail, MK Lightning (albeit under a previous owner) saw bigger opportunities and left the league for the EIHL as did the Hull side at the time, the Stingrays (although both failed to make it work. Romford dropped out of the league as well and did say in a recent press release attendances would need to be at least maintained if the Raiders are to be have the budget necessary to fund the additional travel. It doesn’t really fill you the confidence.
Leeds being the newcomers is curious one. Whilst the new rink there have stated their desire to have professional ice hockey in the stadium there is a risk. There is no fan base established in the city although their is a strong social media base for the sport their is no fan base established in the city and it remains unclear what effect this will have on other teams in the area such Bradford and Sheffield.
There problems further down as well.
In South 1, Oxford and Chelmsford have taken the opportunity to jump back up after leaving when the EPL collapsed to avoid playing the new big teams. Solent also join them. Invicta and MK Thunder have also been confirmed despite struggling to complete this season. A tenth team is yet to be confirmed but what is the guess that Cardiff Fire will take up the spot just to complete throwback feel.
In South 2 teams look to be following the usual trap to problems with Streatham and Solent icing second teams. I understand they want to develop and give opportunities for players but so many teams have been down this road and it has failed.
In the North section it is a similar story with Solihull, Blackburn, Whitley Warriors, Billingham, Nottingham Lions, Sutton Sting and Solway being joined by a mystery team joining North 1 possibly Murrayfield Racers as Widnes Wild have been confirmed in North 2 despite all but confirmed as the league champion.
Hockey is a bums on seats sport. The more fans in the arena the more stable a team is. Having a team win every game is just as damaging as losing every game and it is clear there is a need to get the biggest teams together more. From a development point of view it is also clear their is a role in player development for a step between the current NIHL and the EIHL.
However the biggest hinderance to player development is having a team fold. To me these changes just feel like something that was tried and failed before and I don’t see the economic climate improving enough to make it work again. I hope there is something more coming perhaps conferencing or promotion and relegation to make a real difference and make this feel like a step forward.