Did We All Secretly Love EIHL Conferencing?

The Elite League’s conference structure was something that fans never really seemed to like but with attendances down so far this season by around 200 per game did we all secretly like the format? Certainly our visit to Altrincham on Sunday night seemed to show a lower attendance than we are used to at the Storm Shelter.

The unbalanced fixture list left many feeling as the league title was unfair. A look at the standings maybe shows that was true. For example in 2018 Manchester Storm finished 2nd whilst their conference rivals (which included expansion sides Guildford and Milton Keynes) finished 6th, 8th and 11th. Another big criticism was fan fatigue with many feeling like the same teams were playing each other week in week out. However in 2017/2018 the EIHL saw attendances grow and 3 clubs in the top 100 in Europe all raising in their position.

So far this season league attendances are down by an average 207 fans per game. Only Sheffield and Dundee have shown an increase. Maybe it is the even fixture list making rivalries more spread out and we could see bigger than normal attendances for those games such as the Nottingham – Sheffield or Cardiff – Coventry ties. However Cardiff and Coventry didn’t play in the same conference last year and so will meet more often this year. There was no lack of intensity for what was only a league game on Sunday night. Storm’s new signing Chance Braid was looking very sharp and fast and keen to make a mark with some early hits.

There is maybe a travel element at play. With the conferences having some geographical element it is true it was easier for more away fans to get to more games. You can not blame Flyers fans not traveling to Manchester on Sunday night given it is 3 weeks from Christmas, a school night and poor weather.

The webcast is getting to be increasingly contentious issue for many. Some games are shown, some aren’t and some clubs aren’t doing them. This could be a contributing factor. Many clubs are not doing a webcast when they are playing conference or local rivals. More games between the Scottish teams and those south of the boarder it means more webcasts and perhaps some home fans jumping on board as well instead of heading to a game. Of course these viewing figures do not show as attendance.

Perhaps being a team down this year is also not helping. With 11 teams instead of 12 it means 1 team has to sit out a weekend game when attendances are higher. This has also led to more midweek fixtures. Belfasts success in the Continental Cup as well will add to this with an entire weekend of fixtures needing to be rearranged. Next year when it is expected either Hull or Edinburgh/ Murrayfield will return to the EIHL this shouldn’t be a problem but with an extra team the conference structure will need to return.

TEAM Home Games in 2018/2019 2018/19 average 2017/2019 average Difference
Sheffield Steelers 14 5,721 5,352 369
Nottingham Panthers 11 5,550 5,674 -124
Belfast Giants 6 3,468 4,525 -1,057
Cardiff Devils 13 2,828 2,986 -158
Glasgow Clan 10 2,391 2,993 -602
Coventry Blaze 12 1,917 2,151 -234
Fife Flyers 12 1,742 1,808 -66
Guildford Flames 13 1,699 1,776 -77
Milton Keynes Lightning 11 1,506 1,626 -120
Manchester Storm 12 1,354 1,592 -238
Dundee Stars 12 1,170 1,141 29
Average: 2,668 2,875 -207

Belfast are also a problem for the stats at the moment. Despite it being December the Giants have only had 6 league home games. Their attendance is currently showing the biggest reduction in numbers of over a thousand but with such a small number of games it that is not exactly fair comparison and would expect that difference to reduce.

Many teams will be worried at the current trend as bums on seats is the only way teams can survive. Sheffield have shown that ticket offers can help but with ticket offers you need capacity something Sheffield have 5 times more of than other sides. With the fiasco in Edinburgh during the summer and disruption that has caused with the fixture list it is perhaps unsurprising that the attendances are taking a hit. However the season is still young and attendances tend to get a boost from Christmas into the stretch. So did we secretly love the conference format maybe not but it did have some some benefits that we did like.

Neil Tucker

Neil has written on ice hockey for many websites concentrating on British ice hockey mostly. Neil also covers ice hockey in other countries and organises his Blueliner Hockey Tour. A graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University Neil turned his hand to hockey writing in 2009. As well as contributing on Blueliner Hockey Neil has contributed to Get Real Hockey and Slapshot Magasine.

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