Storm Clouds Gathering

With news that Cardiff Devils and now Coventry Blaze are in financial trouble are storm clouds gathering for the future and stability of the EIHL?
Obviously the economic downturn has had a major impact on some team’s attendances, very much highlighted by last night’s game in Cardiff, where a visit by league leading Belfast Giants could only draw a crowd of 1,199, just 48% of the rinks 2,500 capacity. Of course Cardiff aren’t the only team struggling with crowds, but late last week owner Paul Ragan announced that cuts to their budget would be made if crowds & sponsorship didn’t improve in this article on Wales Online

Perhaps the biggest bombshell has come today with Coventry Blaze issuing an appeal to their fans to come out and support them as the club is under ‘immense and immediate pressure’ LINK
They have launched ‘Blaze Action Month’ which will try and avert a financial crisis by hoping to attract more fans and more sponsorship.
Personally, I think the Blaze should be applauded. They realise that the financial clock is ticking and rather than try and cover it up, they have been open and honest before the bomb goes off. Back in September I wrote about Blaze on these pages after they informed their fans then that the garden wasn’t rosy and asked for their suggestions on the Fire & Ice forum. I applauded them then for their openness with their fans then and I do so again now, only this now has the wider glare of every Elite League teams fans wondering what is happening.
Obviously the decrease in crowds is a major factor in their financial situation and the easy answer would be to cut a player or two from their roster. However, then you run the risk of being uncompetitive, the crowds fall further, income dries up and the vicious circle continues.
Some say that Blaze’s acquisition of Hull Stingrays has had a major pull on their income, despite denials from club management to the contrary. I don’t know myself, I can’t see how it hasn’t had an effect, but how sad would it be that their action of saving the Stingrays could actually put them out of business?

Already talk has started on the future and that’s where it doesn’t look good for Arena clubs such as ourselves. Talk is of a more sustainable product, which excludes the ‘big money’ Arena teams and is looking at something based on the old BNL model. While Sheffield has the benefit of being able to play out of Ice Sheffield, this could leave Nottingham & Belfast with nowhere to go.
The sad irony is that the two best run teams in the league, Panthers & Giants, could find themselves out on a limb at the end of the current season due to their Arena venues and that would be an absolute travesty, not to mention around 8-10,000 hockey fans being left with no team to follow. Some may see that as far fetched but I see it as a real danger and possibility. It is in our own best interests that the league survives and we do all we can to help it.
I have seen a very small minority Panthers fans with a ‘screw ‘em’ attitude with regards the Blaze on various social media and forums today, a view that saddens me and is myopic in my opinion. The bigger picture has to be looked at as what is the point of being in a league with no-one to play? Of course some still hold the outlandish view that some European league is going to come along and beg us to join them. Sorry, but our priority should be the UK and we need to help the Elite League and its clubs get its house in order, because I for one don’t want to be watching the X-Factor on a Saturday night next season! Something needs sorting and it needs sorting now.


4 Responses to “Storm Clouds Gathering”

  1. 1 thestub December 5, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    I think there are a lot of people sat around getting ready to say “told you so” but not remotely happy about the fact. The EIHL has been teetering on the brink for season after season – and Blaze rocking (along with the Devils) really could be the beginning of the end.

    Personally, I don’t see why a reduction in import numbers would rule out the arena teams. It would need them to curb the spending, just to keep the sport competitive – or it would cost them fans from the sheer difference in depth.

    I worry, however, how many would walk away from the sport because of a perceived drop in quality without giving it a chance – or even any thought to making the sport sustainable in the UK.

  2. 2 JohnnyfromDonny December 5, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    Excellent piece Jono. Time to bury the hatchets and get behind them

  3. 3 Garry December 5, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    thestub, I agree – if there is a mandate to reduce the amount of imports I do not see how this rules out the arena teams. Actually the league may become even more competitive as some of the teams down the bottom end like Fife may actually be able to compete. I don’t mind a drop in quality as long as the games are exciting and entertaining. That’s what does it for me every time. I still think there can be fantastic hockey with say 7 imports per team… I think any organisation would be crazy to turn away big clubs like Nottingham and Belfast just because they have better rinks and set ups. Ice Hockey needs Nottingham and Belfast and if the Elite League does collapse then whatever rises from the ashes needs to include these teams. The visting fans alone raise the attendance levels at most rinks, ask Sheffield…..

  4. 4 Jacko December 5, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Reply to the stub;

    Problem is Stub us arena teams need more people through the front door week in week out to be sustainable. Giants org bust their balls every week to make sure we get as close to that magic number as possible. Dilute the product even further and it makes that task all the harder.
    Youve said yourself that a number of fans would just walk away with a drop in standard. We all seen how many fans walked away when the drop from ISL to EIHL happened.

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