British ice hockey and Covid19. A topic that has generated much discussion. Like all sports, ice hockey hasn’t been played since early March. And like in every other sport, the question of how the sport adapts going forwards is on many folks minds.
British Ice Hockey and Covid19
Like most sports outside of the top tier “elite” (footballs Premier League being the obvious example), ice hockey relies very much on week to week income from fans. Very few clubs are capable of surviving without that regular flow of income. Whilst all clubs will have sponsors, the income they generate is usually far below what many people expect it to be. The income generated by fans is by far the most important to a clubs finances.
And if sport is to restart under a “behind closed doors” system, then how will ice hockey cope? What can be done to try and replace the lost game day income? And can any of the options bring in an amount even close to the required amount?
Simply put, the sport has 2 realistic options:
1: Play behind closed doors, and stream the games live to fans.
2: Curtail the season and only run games when fans are allowed back into rinks/arenas.
Now, in all honesty, neither of those options is ideal. They both have shortcomings that need to be looked at.
A shortened season which may not begin until December/January would certainly make recruitment harder. Other countries may allow sports to be played sooner. And the major US leagues, who form the core of EIHL recruitment, are all planning behind closed doors play. Putting together a squad of reasonable quality for a 15-20 week season could also see an increase in player wage demands. Less games played means less time to earn the amount players are used to.
And that is before you get to the question of whether the fans will accept it. Sure, the hardcore of fans will wait for the season to start. But the more casual ones? They may find other interests to fill their time. And that will hit the bottom line. Even if you only lost, say, 20% of your regular support, thats a huge hit financially.
And sponsors are likely to want to pay less for less exposure. And that is assuming that clubs retain their sponsors, as the same financial pressures from the pandemic (i.e. lost income) will apply to all businesses.
Now, a shortened time frame could still maintain the same number of games. an increase in game frequency, such as teams playing 3 or 4 games per week, could be implemented. However, personal experience of this at the Phoenix would lead me to believe you would see supporter burn out. The casual fans would be far less likely to want to pay for 2 or 3 games a week, thus attendances would certainly drop.
Streaming the games.
Many cubs operate a streaming service for their home games. This is righty seen as an “add on” for fans who can’t make the game, especially fans of the visiting team. And the fans themselves have an expectation of how much they are willing to pay. I’m not convinced that enough fans would pay enough to allow clubs to cover all their costs. Rinks/Arenas won’t lower their costs because the games are behind closed doors. Player wages won’t drop for the same reason. And clubs will still need to cover travel to games.
Interestingly, I belive that the rink clubs with lower attendances (NIHL, smaller EIHL ones) would be better served by this model, as their cost base is significantly lower than the arena teams. In my opinion, it would be easier for, say, Manchester Storm to attract 750-1000 webcast viewers, than Sheffield Steelers to attract 5-6000.
And don’t forget the other match night revenues. Merchandise, 50/50 tickets, SOTB raffles, programme sales. It all adds up. An extra thousand or 2 per game doesn’t sound a lot, but it mounts up over a season. And again, will sponsors want to pay as much for lower levels of exposure?
Realistically, their is no easy option here. Both options above have shortcomings that will be difficult, if not impossible to overcome. And British ice hockey walks a precarious financial knife edge at the best of times. Maybe the best option is to mothball the sport until the 21-22 season, and start afresh. Yes, it would be hard. Yes, it may kill off some clubs. But it also might be the best way to secure the sports long term future.
British ice hockey and Covid19 is a situation no one saw coming. And it is one no one truly has the answer to.