Comment: Suspension was the only way

Fans have to wait another year to see Elite League ice hockey

We knew it was coming, but it doesn’t make the news from the Elite League all the better as the 2020/21 season has now been officially suspended.

We hoped that the pandemic might have gone some way to moving on, or that social distancing measures would be relaxed or that people in general would abide by the rules set out by governments.  Alas, it’s not to be.

It must be great to be a fan of football, rugby, athletics, golf, cricket or even NHL and see your teams or those sports in action again.  Enjoy it and treasure it.  You’re very lucky at this moment in time.

Fans of the Elite League have to wait another year to see any action and while that could very well provide a tremendous boost to NIHL and SNL clubs in the months to come, if they can get something of a season going.

Make no mistake, this is the last thing the owners of the EIHL teams wanted.  They looked at every possible avenue in an attempt to get fans in.  While they theoretically could with social distancing, it would have been hugely costly for them down the line.

This sport has seen too many teams and too many leagues go down the drain because of reckless spending by an individual or a collective.  As decisions go, this could be the most sensible one this sport has ever seen.

The decision to be made was very simple.  Play a season, incur the costs that go with it and risk your future in the event the season may end abruptly.  Or play the long game, go into abeyance for a year and function on minimal cost with a chance of coming out the other side.  It wasn’t a difficult one.

Each team has functioned differently throughout the last six months.  Some have been measured and taken a cautious approach by not announcing too many things too soon such as players and season tickets.  Others have functioned on a “continue as normal until told otherwise.”

Social distancing measures played a huge part in the Elite League’s decision

The truth, there was never any normal in this. We, in a previous post, highlighted the question of testing, for example, for players on a regular basis, like we’re seeing in other sports.  The cost alone would have burdened the ten teams so there was a big hurdle straight away.

But the social distancing point was the major one, as highlighted by Tony Smith.  Basically, without it, it was the only way the teams could function as businesses.

Tony also spoke in the statement about a short format tournament in the New Year.  Maybe he genuinely means it and it’s something they’re looking at.  Maybe it was added to provide a little glimmer of light in what has been a dark morning.

I can’t help thinking it’s an ambitious one at this time and if it can get off the ground, great.  I’m not convinced of a way it can work, if you’re talking about bringing players in on short term deals.  The big question is whether it would be worth it.  I don’t think it would, but then stranger things have happened.

One year to go and we’ll see this again…maybe (PHOTO: GB Ice Hockey)

So, as we look ahead to the future, where does that leave the clubs and the league?  Do they sit by and let the months pass before they start to put plans in place for next September/October?

You would hope not and perhaps, like the Glasgow Clan have announced, take stock of the business, look at its success and failures and try to improve.

Perhaps it’s something the league could look to do as well in its practices.  Far be it for me to kick the EIHL when it’s down, but maybe it’s time to look at the marketability of the league and try to attract that big sponsor or big TV contract to give the league the credibility and dare I say validation that it needs.

In the meantime, let’s start the countdown to 2021/22 and know that it will already be the best season ever.

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