The below was my contribution to “The Stampede” and as such has been reproduced with the permission of the club.
As we gathered last Saturday for the Bison vs Phoenix game the attention of the hockey world was taken away from the predicament of the Phoenix and on to the Tigers instead. That’s no mean feat considering last Sunday should have been the much publicised home coming fixture for the Phoenix while the whole hockey world knew that no work at all had been done on site.
News coming out from Telford though indicated that the Tigers had a much more pressing problem. The line that sparked the worry for me was “The Tigers will play for the fans” in their Friday preview. That combined with the closing paragraph saying a statement about the club would be released said to me that the Tigers were in a club in trouble.
Figures were spoken of and bandied around but on Tuesday a statement in the Shropshire Star confirmed that the Tigers are indeed in real trouble. Creditors to the approximate value of £500,000 were announced on the Star’s website. At this stage nobody other than the Tigers and the appointed agents know the break down of the amounts owed and to whom but what has also been made public on the local paper’s website is that the Tigers have instructed Robson Scott Associates a firm of Business Recovery Specialists and Insolvency Practitioners to assist in placing the Company into Creditors Voluntary Liquidation.
At the time of writing this there is no indication on the Tigers website nor social media or anything awry. What is for sure is that the rest of the EPL waits with bated breath and probably well bitten finger nails for the outcome of whatever the situation may be.
Over the summer two clubs went into liquidation. Precision Sports Marketing Ltd and Freezing Point Ltd both ceased operating their respective clubs, Brackell and Manchester. Both left behind significant debts. A new group stepped forward to take over the Bees, from the outside it seems that the Director of Freezing Point Ltd is also a Director of many other companies also engaged in the business of “Other Sports Activities”. Andrew Cross and Ben Beeching both stepped away from the running of the Bees, from the outside it seems Neil Morris is still involved in the running of the Phoenix.
Neither club suffered any penalty or sanctions over the summer and both now occupy the non play-off spots at the foot of the table.
The Tigers on the other hand occupy the champions elect position at the top of the table at this point in time. There’s a lot left in the season and that could change but it’s a worry that this has happened at the “successful” end of the league table.
Ice hockey is a minority sport in this country. It’s rare it gets main stream coverage. The most notable recent positive coverage was Justin Bieber joining the Manchester Storm when he was on tour for a training session. Other than rare occasions like that the sport usually only hits main stream media when it’s a bad story!
What now for the sport? I’ve read on THF this week of people suggesting that the EPL splits into those that go up to the Elite League and those that go down to the NIHL. I see two problems with this.
Firstly how many of the EPL teams could be EIHL teams in terms of sustainability and competitiveness?
Secondly if teams were forced to go down would they have to follow precedent and enter NIHL2 and gain promotion? No disrespect but NIHL2 is not a place for the EPL clubs to be. In all fairness I don’t feel the NIHL1 league is the place for the EPL clubs to be either. Costs would drop for the teams but so to would attendance.
In my opinion the sport in the UK needs a second tier semi-professional level that is currently filled by the English Premier Ice Hockey League. You only need to look back to the ill fated “challenge” cup a couple of seasons ago to see the gulf between the EPIHL and NIHL. The gap between NIHL and EIHL is huge! One is an entertainment product based around sport, the other a predominantly amateur standard league. The EPL fills that gap nicely with high standard semi-professional players, both Brits and imports in the right balance. There’s some exciting young Brits coming through learning the game from some older Brits and some great imports plying their trade in the EPL.
The question is whether or not the EIHA are the right body to administer this second tier? The EIHA do a very good job administering junior hockey, amateur senior hockey, women’s hockey but the second tier of the country’s sport is pulling in different directions. Perhaps what is needed is an independent EPIHL governing body that is directly affiliated to Ice Hockey UK? Perhaps what’s also needed is stronger governance from the national body too?
The EPL is needed but it must be pitched at the right level in terms of standard and entertainment vs affordability and viability. Fans must have a standard acceptable to them but owners must have outgoings that can be met.
It’s no secret how Wayne Scholes changed the Tigers. He came in mid-season, raided talent from other clubs and upped the pay structure at the Tigers which had a knock of effect league wide. The EPL needs a governing body that has the power to stop that happening. A league in a minority sport didn’t / doesn’t need disrupting, it needs to be kept viable for all members! The league’s governing body also needs the power / will to act when teams go bust either in or out of the season. Sanctions and penalties should be used to ensure that behaviour like this doesn’t happen again!
In order to grow the EPL needs to be solid! It’s not solid with 2 teams having gone bust last summer and 1 team now reported to be under CVL.
If I was in charge of the sport in this country I’d perhaps be looking to spend time with someone from another sport, learning ideas of how their sport works which could be implemented in our sport. Ideas on governance, sponsorship, media coverage as so far the EPL is lacking in all of these.
Here in Basingstoke for example Graham does a great job on the media and PR (and so much more behind the scenes), Adrian does a great job with Bison TV, Grant does a great job with the photography and that gives Basingstoke excellent coverage in the printed and visual media. Some clubs are nowhere near this standard however! Perhaps a league governing body that includes media relations and includes some sponsorship assistance but most importantly includes strong guidance and governance.
It’s time to act now! Plans should be formulated to take this level of hockey forward before it disappears. I guarantee if it disappears now then the circle will reform as the EPL teams seek to grow the standard of the NIHL!
Anyway, welcome to the Lightning and their travelling supporters this evening and of course a warm welcome back to the Bison fans this week.
Enjoy the game