Is British Ice Hockey Missing Out?
Just before Christmas the annual BBC Sports Personality of Year Awards gave their team of the year to the England Netball team. This past week the Netball announced a renewal of their sponsorship agreement with insurer Vitality and a deal with Nike. Whilst netball chairwomen had a slot on Radio 4’s today programme in the middle of a Brexit week. Like England Netball our men’s ice hockey senior team also had a big win last year but didn’t get so much as a mention in the show, the Elite League doesn’t have a sponsor, we are not being featured on Radio 4 and there isn’t a deal with a globally recognised brand supporting the sport. So is British Ice Hockey missing out and why?
First of all it was an unbelievable achievement for Team GB to reach the World Championships. When you look at where the team was 3 or 4 years ago to rise up and make to promotions in 2 years is amazing. However to anyone outside of sport then who knows this? No one and they are still a long way off being in the front of the general publics mind at a major tournament. Compare that to the Netball team who won arguably the biggest competition in their sport in the backyard of the favourites. If we want British ice hockey to be recognised at this stage then simply qualifying for the major tournaments is not enough we need to be competitive at the top. This is the only way that we will get those deals like Netball have. After all a company would rather be associated with a number 1 ranked time than a number 17 (even if they have both won).
You also need to be in the mind of the wider sports community and regularly need to put the sport in peoples minds. With obesity being very much in the public eye at the moment sport is being used to combat this and not only at the youth level but for older people as well through getting back to sport. Netball has done this very well with Back to Netball, ‘sunday’ league Netball and even walking netball getting many women and even some men back into the sport.
This approach is not really going to be possible for ice hockey. The lack of ice time is already a problem for existing teams let alone new comers. However why not work on off ice programmes at leisure centres or maybe even work with the UK Floorball Federation to bring the sport to this audience.
This season was supposed to be the season that ice hockey built on its national team success and went forward but we haven’t really done anything different. Is this a sign of a lack of ambition in the sport at the moment?
Despite winning that title attendances this season in the Elite League have not improved and in the national league both MK Thunder and Invicta Dynamos have needed some fan intervention to make it through the season. There seems to have been nothing new to the sport for some time.
Other sports are trying new things. Cricket introduced T20 and midweek shorter evening games to great success, rugby’s Superleague have taken games to new venues, introduced a ‘Magic’ Weekend with all games in the same stadium over the weekend and netball has held games in big arenas to good success. Pretty much ice hockey has had the same format, albeit with different teams, venues, league names since the start of the Superleague over 20 years ago. We start the season with cup matches then struggle to fit in the knockout rounds because of league matches then we end the season by 1st April and have a weekender in Nottingham. These may be ideas other sports have taken but if we want to keep the sport moving the next big idea is needed. Sheffield – Nottingham at Hilsborough or City Ground next boxing day anyone?
It would be pretty naive however for us to believe that simply being competitive as a sport is enough to be recognised. There is a certain amount of lobbying that goes on. Whilst the sport and its stakeholders continue to argue over the sports governance we can not expect the sport to grow too much and getting the big sponsors that comes with it.
This is probably the biggest challenge without that leadership and governance coordinating there wont be anything to keep up with the likes of Netball.
Is British ice hockey missing out? Yes it is. It is somewhat expected given the competition from other sports and level they are at but as a sport we are not doing much to combat this in an age when we competition for the family spending money is as fierce as ever.