It’s been nearly 10 months since the Elite League abruptly ended 2019/20 and we’ve seen no action since, but plenty of hopes and wishes for the year ahead.
While some of the organisations are taking the time to look at their business model and find ways to improve, you would hope the EIHL are doing the same.
So here are eight suggestions as to how the Elite League can improve and really try to make ice hockey to capture the public’s imagination in the New Year.
SAFETY FOR ALL
The first goes without saying and is probably the most obvious, but you would hope there’s the semblance of a plan on how people can go to ice rinks and arenas in the safest possible fashion.
If there’s a seriousness about playing in 2021, the main men on the board should be reaching out to their European counterparts and other minority sports in the UK to find out how they’ve managed to function, either with a limited attendance or behind closed doors.
With the tiered systems across the country and the new strain continuing to change the landscape all the time, it’s hard to know where we’ll be with all this in the next couple of weeks, never mind when a season is likely to start.
The bottom line is the safety of those involved and that has to be a priority for the league before they can even consider bringing players over, let alone getting a product on the ice.
SCRAP MINI LEAGUE IDEA
Anyone about to be offered £4 million is bound to see pounds signs in their eyes when they get giddy at the thought of playing. The best idea would be to sit it out and return when we were originally supposed to.
The money was dependant on seeing some on-ice action, but with the same variables – and some new ones – out there as to why the five teams shouldn’t play, it’s too big a risk.
Of course that money may plugged a few gaps, but after committing and planning to a season in abeyance, what benefit would there be in scrambling to put a rushed competition on the ice?
All the talk has been of starting in January and we’re now here, but no further forward with a structure or a schedule so maybe it’s best to end the speculation and starting looking to later in the year.
One area the Elite League badly fails in is marketing and without a key sponsor or even a decent television deal, with the greatest of respect to Premier Sports and FreeSports, it’s held the EIHL back.
The people behind the clubs are successful in their own way so why this particular area is one that’s always overlooked is a complete mystery and should be addressed.
While it’s maybe not a fair comparison with other leagues around Europe, they’ve been able to play because they have that financial backing in place, which has helped them enormously. That’s not been the case here.
The time has come for the Elite League to really try and find a company willing to put their cash into the sport and give that person the opportunity to push as much as they can and not hold them back from doing so.
If basketball can find a way back to play and get on television with their new Sky Sports deal in place, then there’s no reason why the Elite League can’t.
It’s never been so glaringly obvious as it is now to bring someone in who can help achieve this. The one obstacle is how the pandemic has affected businesses, but there is an opportunity out there.
MAGIC 5 WEEKEND
If you want to come back with a bang, this is definitely the way to celebrate the sport’s return. It can do for the end of a lengthy time off what the play-off weekend does to end a season.
All ten sets of fans coming together for a festival of hockey is, ideally, the way to do it, taking the situation with the pandemic into account of course, but even getting the teams together would be great.
Even if fans can’t attend, a weekend of hockey over three days including the Friday would certainly help in making up for lost time and really announce ice hockey’s comeback. Getting it on television would be huge as well.
There’s something in this idea and if guidelines don’t make it feasible this year, it’s one to look at in future campaigns.
THREE POINTS FOR A WIN
It’s used in many leagues and at the World Championships, but adopting a three point win system would make things a lot more interesting when it comes to games.
With both teams chasing a win in regulation time, the carrot of a full three points would be an attractive and you can’t help but feel it would be a lot more exciting.
Three for a win in 60 minutes, two for wins achieved in overtime and penalty shots and one for the team edged out after regulation time can be a really refreshing approach to the league campaign, especially when it comes to the tight games that could make all the difference.
As I’ve said before on these pages, breathing new life in these competitions could be a great thing and one that should be considered when it comes to how we can sell the sport.
The Challenge Cup can go one of two ways. It can be scrapped altogether or completely revamped from the terrible three group system where getting ten teams down to eight requires a calculator and some help from Rachel Riley or Carol Vorderman.
We don’t need the quarter finals or the ‘play-in’ play-off game. Two groups of five and the top four go through for the semi finals or – and this may be laughed down – an FA Cup style straight knockout tournament involving NIHL teams too. EIHL teams and fans may not go for that, but it’s an idea.
As for the play-offs, the reasons why it can’t be an NHL-style best of series is clear. It would be too costly for the clubs and their respective arenas to pay for dates they may not use.
The finals weekend is absolutely fine as it is so you want to prolong the drama. How many times have you enjoyed the play-offs to find that over two weekends, it’s just too short?
Therefore, the play-offs are slightly extended by another weekend. All ten teams are playing for placing as normal, but instead of the top eight going through and shutting the door on the bottom two, the top six go through to the quarter finals.
The first weekend sees the bottom four play with seventh versus tenth and eighth against ninth to determine the final two spots, with the other six putting their feet up that weekend.
Then the next week, the remaining eight all go for it as per normal until the winner is crowned at the final four event. From a marketing perspective, it means there are jerseys for all teams as well, which would bring in more money for the EIHL.
The clubs who have established this already may not be in favour, but a centralised webcasting service is certainly going to be a must in a post-COVID ice hockey world.
Three clubs, for their own reasons, have always been resistant to show games online live and charge for the privilege, but they may be more open to the idea, especially if bringing fans in is not an option.
Using basketball as an example, the BBL offers a £19.99 monthly pass to all games on demand or live or £4.99 per game. Without knowing how successful it’s been, it’s a decent price and ice hockey fans would snap those packages up, depending on their preference.
Trying to sell games for £10-£15 wouldn’t be workable in the current environment so the league would need to come up with a structure to make this attractive to fans and bring in the experts who can pull it all together.
It shouldn’t be about who’s making the most money with something like this. If they’re in it together, like they claim they are, then make this work as a collective.