It is not often that something in British ice hockey goes under the radar. But the UK Hockey League had done just that. Until that is the Chasing Dragons blog unearthed their plans.
It appears that the UKHL is a new organisation attempting to bring an NHL style league structure to the British game. It would have a strong centralised leadership with a commissioner that would control media and revenue sharing and this would be lead by some ex players and ex NHL executives. It is also claimed the UKHL would have big financial backing and would have aims such as reinstating a team in the top flight in Manchester and London and bringing through young British talent and coaches. In practise it appears that the UKHL would be looking to either directly challenge the established EIHL or replace it completely and would be looking to start the season after next in 2014.
There is no doubt this new league and organisation would have some benefits for British ice hockey. The lack of a central body behind the EIHL has led to many problems. The disappearance of any resemblance of a salary cap for example has been caused because the teams have left to manage it themselves and some clubs have made money so can afford to spend more. Media is another issue. Small budget teams do not have the resource to challenge for media space in large markets. The Edinburgh Capitals for example have a small operating budget yet the media market in the Scottish capital is highly competitive. In sports alone there are 2 top flight soccer teams and a rugby union side and the Scottish international rugby union team as well as smaller sports such as speedway making it hard for the Capitals to get that media coverage. It is something a central body would assist with.
The same central body could also do away with the allegations that the league is ran by certain owners of arena teams for the benefit of their teams and to the detriment of the rest. It is certainly true a central body operating a league away from the owners could be more objective in their changes. The import rule for example in the EIHL has fluctuated like the stock exchange and with no long-term aim. The EIHL being run by the owners has tended to look at the short term and not to the next 5 years or more.
The UKHL would also see a big change in the people that run the sport in the UK. Over the years it has been the same people behind the scenes and the arguments and the fall outs over the years have lingered and soured relationships for a long time. The Guildford Flames for example were spurned entry to the Superleague in 1995 owing to the size of their arena but when the opportunity to enter the Elite League in 2003 and 2005 arose they skipped on the chance in part it is assumed due to the bad feeling caused in 1995.
There are some pitfalls. Anything in British ice hockey that comes with the words money or financial backing should be treated very cautiously. British hockey had a lot of money in it during the Superleague and when that money left, professional ice hockey in the UK nearly went out of existence. And the sport not only lost 2 of its most successful and best support sides but many fans and a great deal of credibility. Whilst the EIHL has many problems being ran by the owners of the teams has proven to be more stable which is what the sport has needed.
The UKHL is yet to get off the ground and it remains to be seen whether or not it will. Many have tried and many have failed and there are many challenges to overcome in a world of superscepticism.
Top of that list is the teams. The UKHL said in an interview with Chasing Dragons that they would like all the EIHL teams to be included. However it is hard to see the benefits for the Nottingham Panthers, Sheffield Steelers and Belfast Giants. These 3 teams have high attendances, big media presence in their cities and stable financial backing and so these could be made to feel to be a cash horse for the league. Neil Black also owns the Braehead Clan making it 4 teams that may be very reluctant to enter. The Cardiff Devils too may also be reluctant given owner Paul Raganâ€™s dislike of salary caps and that is half of the Elite League off the bat that would think more closely about a change.
Nothing in British ice hockey is certain and the UKHL is far from it. A change in guard at the top of sport and less powers to owners could be lead to a new era of progress for the sport and would be a refreshing change. The UKHL is expecting to start making official announcements this summer, which if nothing else will make interesting reading.