Moving On Nowhere: Lions and City Stars Decline Promotion

Recently both the NIHL 2 champions have decided against taking their promotions. Despite promotion being offered both the southern title winner   the Oxford City Stars and northern section winners the Nottingham Lions declined the opportunity to ice in NIHL 1 in 2013-14 and both for similar reasons.

Both teams state that they thought they would be unable to compete with the teams in the higher division as they had more money and resources and in Nottingham’s case in was the increased travel was going to be a logistical and financial issue. But having tasting success in 2013 are these teams just making excuses to avoid the possibility of failure in the up coming season?

It is a more difficult question than the Lions and Stars not wanting to have a difficult season on the ice. There are serious issues off ice to consider.

The issues stated by Nottingham and Oxford are not just isolated to National League 2. Despite having good setups, strong support and financial backing that exceed some of the other teams in their league there are plenty of sides that will not make step up and able for a position in a higher league.  The Guildford Flames are the most commonly used example of this. Despite having being rumoured to have a budget that exceeds the likes of the EIHL outfits in Edinburgh or Fife the Flames remain in the lower level English Premier League. In turn their budget far exceeds that of the Bracknell Bees or the Telford Tigers.  Of course if a team like Guildford were to move up a league they would no longer be a winning side, which could cost them in footfall and this combined with increased wages affects overheads and could put the club at risk.

That is a common problem through sport but unlike soccer or rugby due to the franchise system in hockey there are no parachute payments and little centralised financial assistance. However in the case of the National League there are some other factors at play.

6797841735_f4c2ec7c0eThe National League is made up of mix of clubs. There some well established sides that have a strong history such as the Whitley Warriors or the Chelmsford Chieftains. There are those sides that a new and/ or building such as the Solway Sharks or the Deeside Dragons and then there are the development sides like the Nottingham Lions, Trafford Metros or Basingstoke Buffalo. This means that teams have different priorities and it was interesting to note that one reason given by the Lions for their decline was that the promotion would damage their prospects progress.

There is no easy solution for this issue across British ice hockey. A look at rugby league’s flirtation with promotion and relegation will tell that when there is a big gap between the budgets of teams it is not simple to reconcile.

One solution could be salary caps but even this is not a universal answer after all how do you salary cap an amateur league like the National League. Another answer maybe to have a specific development or an under 25’s league but then where does that leave the historic clubs who have a duty to their fans to provide a certain standard of play.

For sure centralised financial help would be of benefit but in British hockey there is a conflict as to where this would come from, the EIHA or the EIHL and very little money to do it with.

A further regionalised set up in the EPL and National League may help by reducing travel costs but you would need commitment from teams to join to the EPL and in both leagues this would not help the difference in the budgets of the teams involved.

With little or no safety net for when teams struggle off the ice it is probably for the best that teams have the option to stay where they are for now. After all in order for a team develop either as players or as a club or as both they first need to play.

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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