Comment: Why Elite Series should be embraced

It’s the news we’ve all hoped and waited for that there will be some Elite League action in the form of the Elite Series.  It may not be the ideal solution for everyone, but it’s something.

Yes, you’ll recall this particular writer was against the notion of a mini tournament involving just English clubs a few weeks back and would rather have just sat idle until September.

Do you know what though?  It’ll give us something to hang on to that we can have a possible full restart later in the year with all ten teams involved and that’s the main thing.

Things in general seem to be more and more positive in terms of the pandemic, with numbers coming down and the vaccine taking effect so it appears we are inching toward seeing the sport we love back in action.

As a Scottish ice hockey fan, it is still disappointing that none of the three teams north of the border are able to take part and with the sort of money involved from the government support, I can understand why.

Regardless, it’s a precursor for what we hope will be a summer of signing news and speculation and to be honest, I think we’ve all missed it in the last 12 months.

Even Gareth Chalmers’ interview on British Ice Hockey at the weekend where he spoke of getting the search going for a new coach was something hugely positive.  Between the Elite Series announcement and that, it’s far more positive than it’s been.

The draft for players around the rest of the league will be an interesting one and while we don’t know who exactly is involved at the time of writing, fans of the four teams should be excited at the prospect of some of the names rumoured to be involved.

What I am interested in, apart from the format which will lead to a best of three play off final series, is how the Elite League will try and lure fans back to the game with the streams they’ll offer.

With all the games to take place behind closed doors, offering an online stream or full on TV coverage is the only way to get them to the fans restricted to watching from home.

Danny Stewart will be back behind the bench for Coventry Blaze in the Elite Series (PHOTO: Scott Wiggins)

Ideally we want to see the games shown on television, the likeliest venue being Premier Sports or FreeSports, given their excellent coverage of the Elite League in recent years.

If not, streaming is the alternative and the cost of it will be fascinating in how they try and sell it to fans.

The streaming model appears to have largely worked in the NIHL, although the price differences are baffling.  A Spring Cup stream is £12, the South Cup games are a tenner, but the North Cup teams are putting their games out for free on YouTube.

With that in mind, you have to hope the EIHL will be sensible on this, taken into consideration people are struggling through loss of jobs, furlough etc as a consequence of coronavirus so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to charge £5, to maximise the chance of a big watching audience.

In an ideal world, you’d like to see the games on YouTube streamed for free and really open it out to everyone, but history tells you that won’t happen.

All games are to be streamed, but how will that be sold to fans? (PHOTO: Ice Time TV)

But, if anything, it’s an opportunity.  A chance to start the sport again with a clean slate and put the Elite League out there to potential new fans.  From there, you’re taking it up to the World Championships in Riga, where GB are of course then rolling on to a new regular season.

This time last year, we had no idea when we would see top flight ice hockey again as the virus engulfed the planet.

Now the seeds of a regrowth in popularity can begin, starting with the Elite Series and hopefully ice hockey can grow from there.

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