Globally, there are very few sports fanatics who would not be aware that football and rugby rank among the top played and viewed sports in the United Kingdom. Not only that, but many would also be surprised if not bewildered to know that ice hockey has gained some ground in terms of popularity within the UK. So, how did all this come about, and what do the Brits take of this new addition to their sporting culture?
Football and rugby are primarily outdoor sports. In a country that rarely gets low temperatures that are conducive for outdoor ice hockey games, England may not have had much of an inkling for the sport, but that seems to be changing. The Brits have for a long time found football and rugby the in-thing and a game of talent-either you have it or you don’t. However, before 2011, the Sheffield Steelers Ice Hockey team in the UK was going through dire times: the fans were losing interest and the management had no idea what to do. For many fans, the game was a tad boring and it seemed like too much work was needed to not only play the game but to understand it as well. In came their new owner and visionary, Tony Smith.
Tony Smith; Owner of Steelers British Ice Hockey Team
After acquiring the team in 2011, Smith took to research as to why the game wasn’t making much ground in the UK, contrary to its counterparts in North America for instance. Quite simply, the game needed intensive promotional activities in and out of the rink. Ice Hockey, in this instance, was played indoors, which meant a new experience for many who have predominantly been used to the outdoors, with its sunny days and sometimes rainy afternoons which made for even more interesting football matches. Smith had to go guns blazing, bringing in video screens that would place players on the big screen, while providing live-streaming to fans at home. What seemed like a dull and confusing sport became a gateway for new experiences, and some spectators are hooked.
Says Caitlin, one Ice Hockey fan, ‘its’s eclectic, right from the puck drop,’ A commentator on FreeSports even called it superhero stuff, claiming the action between both sides as they maneuver through the ice rink is exhilarating. Perhaps what has given the sport more leverage as it seeks to find its place among the top sports in the UK, is the use of the internet. With the ubiquity of the internet playing a major role in everything today, especially in the popularity of sports, Smith found somewhat of a niche for the sport among the Brits, over the internet. With the internet bringing more and more sports to households, some football fans have been quoted as saying that football tickets had at some point become quite dear in terms of pricing, hence they took a chance at a different sport, only to find it not only appealing but nothing they had imagined.
So what exactly brings newcomers to enjoy ice hockey? The thrill. The sounds. The mayhem and pure adrenaline. Once on the ice, players develop adrenaline-like any other sport. This is felt when they thump each other on the ice rink, or when the puck is flying at 100 mph heading toward the opponent’s net. For the adrenaline junkie in all of us, this sport has provided a new high for football fans and all newcomers to the sport alike. Like any other sport with a fan base, ice hockey in the UK has developed enough interest to have punters create odds for the gambler in all of us.
Ice Hockey Players in Action
In a nutshell, ice hockey’s popularity in the UK seems to be growing steadily, yet surely. It has become the third most popular winter sport within the region, with football and rugby being the most popular of all sports. Ice Hockey is also the most viewed of all indoor sports in Britain. The fans have taken to it with renewed energy, probably more energy than they would exude at a football game at the moment. Some have even called the atmosphere ‘carnival-like’ and similar to an adrenaline-filled heavyweight bout. The sport has generated enough interest to have it poaching fans from football and rugby fields for years to come, with high-season tickets falling at approximately one-third the price of tickets for an expensive football.