What is “the way forward”? Indeed, what do I mean by “the way forward”? Well, in it’s most basic form, I’m wondering what the sport needs to do in the post Covid world to not only regain lost ground, but also grow itself into what many of us know it could be.
Probably the biggest issue that permeates the sport is a lack of a joined up vison for the future. At best, you might get a league, say the EIHL, actively looking to add 1 or 2 teams to it’s system. Generally speaking though, most clubs operate in their own little, localised bubble. They will “market” (and I use the term loosely) in their own locality. Oftentimes, this “marketing” will consist of little more than some social media posts, and a few flyers/posters in local shops/cafes/etc.
Whilst this is indeed “marketing”, it is incredibly small scale, and has limited effectiveness. Now, I fully understand that most clubs operate on a “hand to mouth” basis, with limited cash flow. But the lack of investment and forward planning in marketing is ultimately detrimental to each club.
From my perspective, I believe that rather than just looking out for their own little piece of the pie, now is the right time for clubs to band together and work as a collective for marketing purposes. Even a small sum from each club in any given league could be invested into bigger, better, and more prominent marketing.
Take social media advertising, for example. It is very affordable to buy ad space on Facebook. Yet an individual club will only choose to market to a specific audience. And this is almost certainly within, say, 10-20 miles of the club, and already showing an interest in ice hockey. If all 10 clubs in the EIHL for example contributed £500, a 10 day campaign just looking at “sports” fans aged 18-65 in the UK could reach 12.4k people per day. That’s over 120k during the 10 days. And that’s a lot more than any individual club could achieve. Also, you would assume that some money centrally from the league could be added to the budget. Which of course increases exposure for a relatively low amount.
And the added benefit of this is you get a unified image and message across. This makes the whole look far more professional. Now, there is nothing to say that each team can’t also continue to carry out localised marketing, but an umbrella system is only going to help.
Another thing that the sport seems loathe to engage in as a collective is broadcasting the sport. And by this, I don’t necessarily mean on a TV channel. In this modern digital era, streaming is an ever growing, and incredibly important outlet for all kinds of events. Again, this is something that many clubs are doing on an individual basis. Again, this creates a disjointed, amateurish feel to the system.
Look at British basketball. The BBL decided to eschew looking for a major TV broadcaster (although SKY Sports and the BBC do still carry some games). They instead set up a league wide streaming platform, offering fans the chance to watch pretty much every game played for a set monthly fee. This gives them a centralised marketing hub that they can promote. An this is naturally is much more cohesive and professional than each club gong off and doing it’s own thing.
Now, the EIHL seems to be headed in this direction with it’s “Elite Series”, using www.eliteleague.tv to promote and host all the games within the competition. As to whether they will continue with this post Covid, well, lets just say I have my doubts. At least 1 team owner believes that streaming their clubs games will actually be harmful. This kind of backwards, insular thinking can, and does hold the sport back. This owner is only interested in their own profits, and refuses to see the bigger picture. Because let’s be honest, if all 10 clubs can operate profitably, then there is much more room to grow than if only, say 3 or 4 manage to do so, and the others stay stuck in a non competitive limbo.
Of course, that assumes that the big boys actually want a truly competitive league, and not just to remain the top dogs. And I genuinely believe that at least 2 of the top clubs are more than happy to keep things as they are, purely for their own benefit. Sure, they will invite new teams to the league, but only to keep it a viable option for themselves. They are content with their own piece of the pie, and really don’t care about anyone else beyond how they can help them carry on as they are.
And it would probably help if more actual, real British players were involved at the top level. The EIHL is the countries flagship league. Yet the bulk of it’s players are not actually British. Now, the arguments as to why could go on for days. But ultimately, the EIHL has created a noose for it’s own neck. Brit roster spots are limited. So the best Brits ask for top dollar to play. This means lesser Brits ask for a larger sum of money, and imports are seen as a cheaper, “better quality” option. Of course, it is this artificial scarcity of roster spots that creates the “overpaid Brit” situation. But try telling the EIHL (or many of it’s supporters) that. They won’t have it, and believe me I’ve tried.
Personally, I believe that having local players gives a club a better connection to it’s home town/city, and this can be leveraged into the marketing. And there is also the benefit that over time it will improve the quality of those local players, meaning the “quality” improves. Although, and exciting end to end game is just as exciting be it an NIHL game or an EIHL game. The “quality” on display is relative, and if your level on enjoyment is defined purely by whether a player is British or Canadian, then you need to think about yourself quite seriously.
So, ultimately, what is “the way forward”? Well, it’s a combination of the following:
- Linked up marketing.
- A more cohesive, all encompassing approach to the sports wellbeing.
- More use of local talent.
- Exploring new avenues for revenue generation.
And that wraps this one up for today. Hope you’ve enjoyed it.