In previous blogs, I bemoaned the lack of direction and clarity displayed by the (then) EPL owners group.
In recent days it has been revealed that EIHA chairman, Ken Taggart, had emailed the remaining seven clubs stating that none of the 35 NIHL teams were interested in stepping up, and that they should all apply to the NIHL.
The email (pictured above, minus personal contact details) was sent on Sunday and is pretty blunt – it looks only at a single option.
Taggart may be aware of details behind rumours of teams wanting out of the EIHL, which BIH sources recently described as ‘unlikely’, and which may have swayed the tone of the email.
Ultimately, it would be the decision of the team owners as to which direction they take. And they are, to an extent, being rushed into a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
However, moving to the NIHL is not the only option. The current PIHL teams have two other possibilities, both of which involve significant risk.
Keep calm and carry on
The first option is to simply gut it out and run with seven teams. It’s looking increasingly unlikely that Planet Ice/Silver Blades will follow through on their commitment to even up the league structure but, as has been repeated a number of times, it’s their money to do with as they wish.
Ironically, the ability to run a league with a degree of stability, business sense and with clear, open governance in a way that displays they’ve learned from the past, would go quite some way towards making the league attractive to other teams wishing to join.
It could be a very expensive risk though. The possibility that fanbases would reduce due to seeing the same few teams too often, a reduced calendar and the feeling of ‘sameness’ every week could, if it continues for more than a single season, do irreparable damage to the teams’ commercial arms.
This could also cause players to decide to leave, and with the option of playing the same opponents week in, week out, there’s nothing to stop them either calling time on their careers, or moving leagues.
If more teams can be encouraged to join, this could be a brave and very fruitful option.
However, it would require a lot of hard work and a change in working practices, where the owners have to possess greater consideration of the fortunes of the league than of themselves. That part, would NOT be popular, but would be very necessary.
The second option could prove more popular, but carries many of the same pitfalls.
EIHL Division 2
This option would see a closer working tie up with the Elite League – something that may prove popular with the fans and players. To make it work, they would have to dance to the tune of the EIHL.
This could be even more unpopular that the first option. In their own words, the PIHL owners group like running things their own way, and to go with their metaphoric cap in hand to the EIHL would be a difficult move.
For example, there’s nothing to stop the EIHL agreeing to allow it, but on the condition that the league is aimed towards players of a certain age, and that the EIHL Board would set the criteria to suit their own needs rather than those of the Division 2 clubs.
However, it would most likely allow the teams to develop ties with the Division 1 teams, share media resources and potentially bring in non-British trained players from further afield.
Such a move, if utilised properly by the EIHL teams, could assist them in creating a feeder channel of better quality and lower cost British players.
This option would be of greater benefit to the EIHL clubs, but would assist the PIHL teams to continue with a similar, potentially better quality of hockey and a better progression route for their younger players.
Both of these other options have their benefits and drawbacks. It’s unlikely, as one owner has hinted, Taggart’s email was a threat to, or a statement that the PIHL was to be disbanded, but it should certainly act as a wake-up call to the team owners to accept what so many pundits have been saying for some time now.
The history of British Ice Hockey is filled with repeated cycles of failure – if you keep doing the same things as you have been, you will continue to see failure.
The EIHL have at least made a commercial success of their endeavour, the PIHL has not, and looks to further repeat history, by dropping en masse to NIHL in the same way they dropped to the EPL when the BNL failed too.
Indeed, one commentator earlier this week noted that if you wanted to see the line-up for the 2017/18 NIHL simply look at the EPL line up from 2005/06.
The team owners have one last opportunity to prevent history from repeating itself again. There are people out there willing to assist them in doing this, however, the choice is theirs.
Let’s hope that this time they make a wise decision.