What drove ice hockey’s popularity surge in the UK?

Ice hockey has long had fans around the world. But while the game is particularly popular in Canada and parts of the United States, it did not find quite as much success in the United Kingdom. In fact, when Tony Smith, a man many players see as the “saviour” of ice hockey in the U.K., purchased The Steelers in 2011, support and enthusiasm for the sport was all but gone. Today, the game is the most-watched of the country’s indoor sports.

What led to ice hockey’s late renaissance in the U.K.? This article explores the likely factors behind the game’s boom in recent years. 

Enhanced fan experiences

One of the biggest changes to ice hockey in the U.K. is the game’s fan experience. A decade ago, the game was perhaps a bit too polite. There was little interaction, little collision, and little engagement amongst the players as well as the fans watching. The game was almost an individual experience, and even reliable industry news and tips from sources such as Scoop Six was not enough to completely overcome the apathy.

Smith looked to the National Hockey League (NHL) for inspiration and found that NHL games were simply a bit more exciting. There was more discussion, more electricity in the air. He felt that there were a few reasons behind this. First, hockey games in North America are more of an ordeal. Smith noted the flashing lights, the excessive food, and the video trons as a critical element of crowd engagement that was missing in the U.K. 

The other missing touch that Smith noticed was a lack of player-fan interaction. The NHL hosts quick meet-and-greets to bring fans face-to-face with their favourite players to drive personal connections, something else that was not routinely present in the U.K. 

Today, Smith has infused a bit of “razzmatazz” into the ice hockey experience for players and fans alike. The matches are filled with anticipation and excitement, both of which were scarce in 2011. 

Easy to watch

Another undeniable factor to ice hockey’s burgeoning popularity is the presence of domestic teams on local channels. The game is particularly prominent in Sky, Virgin TV, and BT, all of which are convenient for many fans in the U.K. to watch. This, in itself, is something of a new experience for ice hockey fans who, until recently, had differing time zones to contend with when attempting to watch NHL games. 

The availability of local matches paired with the increase in “flashy” viewer elements such as the food, the lights, and the conflict described above, make the sport a natural option to fill spare time even while at home. Some channels show both weekend and midweek games, too, making the game a convenient one to turn on whenever the interest strikes.

Ice hockey is a great sport to dig into and there are plenty of websites offering fans industry news. And if you would rather watch the game than read about it, there is no better time than today. Winter is around the corner!

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