Nottingham Panthers owner Neil Black is remaining optimistic the Elite League can begin in December – but hasn’t ruled out further delay.
The coronavirus pandemic is continuing to affect any possible restart to ice hockey in the UK and although the Elite League has provisionally set a start date towards the end of the year, there remains some doubt over that.
And Black, who spoke to BBC Nottingham Sport, made it clear it will only start once government approval has been given and reckons no 2020/21 season wouldn’t be a blow to the sport.
“Publicly, the league has an official start date of December 5th after pushing it back three months and it was intimated we need a couple of months to sort the necessary things out,” he said.
“Realistically we need at least two to three months notice to be able to start in December, so that means getting something in place for next month in the likelihood we can start then.
“It will be difficult and we cannot start without the government giving us the right to go ahead and be able to proceed with very little social distancing to make our sport a goer.
What will it take to get the season started as planned in December?
— BBC Nottingham Sport (@BBCRNS) August 5, 2020
“I’d like to be positive and think we can go ahead in December. For me, the date is a good date. We need to see how schools open in September and the government is under pressure from the football industry, especially fans of teams below the Premier League.
“I’m entirely confident that if the worst case scenario is there is no league, then we can pick right up again in 2021. This sport has a long history and will be around and flourish in the future. I am certain.
“We’re all trying to look at it on a long term basis and we’re weighing up all pros and cons, including if there’s a further delay beyond December 5th and whether that’s in the long term interest for all the stakeholders in our sport.”
Although many sports have resumed, with either having very limited or no crowds at all, ice hockey, being an indoor sport hasn’t been able to just pick up where it left off.
The premature end to last season in mid-March, which saw the cancellation of the play-off finals weekend, has hit all the clubs hard in the pocket.
Panthers, naturally, were no different as Black revealed the financial hit his club took, but insists safety is paramount to be able to allow fans back into all the arenas.
However he warned social distancing measures, depending on what they are, may make clubs think again about playing a 2020/21 season at all.
He added: “The curtailment of the season and the loss of the play-off weekend has cost our club in the region of £250,000. Some other clubs have lost similar figures, but the good news is the league has uniquely, some good things going for us.
“As soon as we can get back into the arena, then all well and good, but in our case, I’m sure the arena wouldn’t want us to do anything to jeopardise the future of the Nottingham Panthers.
“We want to be able to get going for a new season, but we have to make sure that it’s safe and that it’s going to be viable. After all, it’s not a sport that plays out well in the summer months.
“We’re working closely with the venue and that’s extremely important to us. It’s the same for all the clubs as they try to work through this lean and barren spell.
“We’re running to something like 80% plus capacity so if we are to have any form of social distancing, that would probably reduce the capacity by two thirds – around 2,000 people and us and the other clubs wouldn’t find that viable.
“I think everyone would be reluctant to start without some certainty regarding social distancing, but we’re looking at all the possibilities.”