Comment: All or nothing

Cardiff and Sheffield have done well with attendances, but who's attracting the crowds? (PHOTO: Helen Brabon)

The interview with Neil Black last week revealing plans that the English teams receiving money from the Government’s ‘Winter Survival Package’ raised a lot of eyebrows – particularly among fans of non-English teams.

We’re grateful for any action right now, given the current state of ice hockey in the UK and while the Streaming Series proved popular, the thought of an Elite League campaign – almost three months after we were told there wouldn’t be one – is an unexpected pre-Christmas gift.

The £4 million – £800,000 each – pledged from DCMS via Sport England disseminated to the five English teams is conditional upon a campaign taking place.

Other sports are finding the same questions are being raised with funding, and a return to action would provide a boost to the ice hockey markets on Paddy Power, which has at least seen the return to action in the KHL and others.

Now those English clubs – the ‘haves’ – are forging ahead with a mini campaign of their own, while the three Scottish clubs, Belfast Giants and Cardiff Devils – the ‘have nots’ – have applied to their respective devolved governments to gain funding for themselves.

Are we completely okay with this?

Despite the UK Elite League applying to the UK Government as a collective, only half the teams are benefitting at this moment in time.

Now there’s excitement – at least among the English teams – that they’re eyeing up a January start and Black was positively giddy at the prospect when speaking to Chris Ellis for BBC Nottingham.

It’s a bit of a slap in the face to the other teams still waiting to know if they will be afforded the same kind of money to bring their own operation forward.

After all, what competitive gain will there be in having such a small league?  It would be like playing a Challenge Cup group over and over again, playing the same teams repeatedly into submission to the point where they’re sick of the sight of each other.

If plans are well underway and these clubs recruit the players they need for this extended mini tournament, what will happen with the other teams if they get their funding too and are well behind.  Do you they get an invite to the party or is it too late for them?

Also – and this was a good point made to me by a colleague of mine – what if a British player playing at one of the clubs not playing in England is drafted in by one of the English clubs and are streamrolled into a new contract for 2021-22?  What protection would there be for the non-playing teams?

The upside for the players is those who haven’t been able to find jobs have the chance to play and especially those looking at competing in the World Championships, if it goes ahead in May.

Rob Dowd is among many players who have gone abroad to play – but can they come back for a shortened Elite League season? (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

From a business point of view, I suppose it’s the difference between getting some money in or none at all.  After all, the organisations have sustained some significant losses and this is a way of perhaps closing or narrowing that deficit.

But it should be a case of all play, or nobody plays.  You can maybe allow for a couple of teams pulling out for logistical reasons, if it’s not suitable for them, but you can’t run a season with only half the teams.

Instead of being quick to announce this, due diligence should also have been done and apart from a holding statement to say they were looking into the feasibility of it, nothing should have been said until you knew exactly where everyone stands.  It all seems so premature at this time.

When we knew this season was canned before it had started, the teams would have planned for that and until a couple of weeks ago, were comfortable with running at minimal cost to get them through to next year.

Considering the amount of work that has to go in to get something of a campaign off the ground, you have to ask if it’s really worth it.  After all, if you don’t, or can’t get a season played, what are you losing additionally?

DCMS have pledged £4 million to help ice hockey as a result of Covid 19

You can’t have one half of a collective organisation taking their sticks and pucks and going off to play while the others are benched, waiting to hear if they can get near the ice.

Oh, yeah, there’s the small matter of a thing called Brexit which will drive costs up even more by way of an increase in the cost of an international trading card, the NHS health surcharge for overseas players and all the extra paperwork that will come with visas.

Taking all that into consideration, my question is a simple one.  Would it be so bad to stick to the original plan?

We have to acknowledge the unique situation everyone finds themselves in.  This time last year, all this was unthinkable of course.

It seems we’re still way off at this point and it’s important to note that, but given how frustrating this year has been already – not only in ice hockey – any talk of a season must only happen when we know for definite who can take part and that they can do so safely.

Until then, it’s false hope and while it might be easy to get excited too soon, it’s one the league have to get right before we can look forward to a puck dropping.

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