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October, 2013:

Evolution! Not Revolution!

Today’s magnificent announcement that the EIHL is to receive a weekly live game on, the subscription channel, Premier Sports TV, has rightfully been greeted with delight across the wider UK hockey spectrum.

The opportunity to showpiece what, for me, has been one of the strongest seasons in terms of on-ice talent since the Elite League was established, has been an essential target of the current board. One target that has been achieved with today’s announcement.

However it wouldn’t be the Elite League if it didn’t generate some form of debate between the passionate fans that inhabit the rinks up and down the country.

Alongside the announcement this morning, Aaron Murphy appeared on A View From The Bridge. Speaking to us now as the man spearheading the coverage of the EIHL on Premier Sports he said:

“I fell it will be good to have different perspectives and different voices, adding a different local flavour and a flavour of the individual clubs.”

This has inspired some bloggers such as Lee Sims in the excellent Blog From Block 15 to suggest that certain aspects of the ever expanding “Fan Media” be given their chance and be part of the proposed “new set up” in the Premier Sports coverage.

Which to me brings some interesting points not only on the role and potential of “Fan Media”, but also in what Premier Sports can consider to be a “new set up” and “different flavour” to their coverage.

With Aaron Murphy at the helm you have an enthusiastic, knowledgeable and experienced sports journalist who has interviewed players and called games across Europe and North America. Therefore there is little doubt that the broadcast is in good hands from the start. However the interest comes in the content.

For quite a while now David Simms has ably helmed the Elite League media coverage on Sky Sports. His passion for the sport in this country is unrivalled and his presence on camera is confident and knowledgeable. He certainly retains the contacts within the sport to have a rapport with many current and former players.

However in the last number of seasons the production has been, in my opinion, repetitive and stale. Granted they have worked well with what they have been provided, the highlights being the responsibility of the clubs to provide and the discussion within the show used to add content and spark debate. However interest in the highlights show on Sky began to wain.

Add to that the unnecessarily aggressive, and often insulting, attitude of Mr Simms on social media outlets which have established, at times, a quite unprofessional persona. A persona which, in my opinion, is certainly unbefitting the public televisual “face” of the league. (His response to an invitation by the Coventry webcast last week to join Paul Wheeler, someone with whom he has publicly and repeatedly voiced his disdain, was beyond the pail and one he has subsequently refused to apologise for.)

Therefore a time has arrived for a fresh start. A new channel! Regular live coverage! And the opportunity to redevelop the EIHL TV branding with fresh faces, fresh ideas and a fresh approach.

Murph’s discussion with us on the podcast intimated that with such an active knowledge base in players, ex-players and general manager that usually accompany most teams in the EIHL, the well is there to draw the experience from and put behind the mic.

Adding the perspective of a player, former-player or coach brings a credibility and professionalism to the production. And while we all would expect early productions that focus on bringing out an educational view on the sport (it can be a means to draw new ‘fans’ after all), which may grind on some, the insight from the experienced co-commentator is vital to the success of the production.

So it comes as a no surprise that Ben Olson, suffering an injury that jeeps him off the ice, was used for the test broadcast in Coventry. This would be the road many would expect the production to follow.

The question comes on the wider aspects of the “new set up”. The first three venues for broadcast are Coventry, Cardiff and Braehead. Three very distinct arenas each with a wealth of passionate fans and stories both on and off the ice. One would hope the production would draw from that. Retain the focus on the game, but in period breaks become an advertisement for the sporting experience both watching live hockey, and playing the game can provide.

The focus should be on fresh content, a fresh approach and most of all giving exposure to what we all know to be one of the fastest and most entertaining spectator sports in the country, enough to encourage those who have never been to venture to their local rink.

The other lively debate which has taken place today, as I referred to earlier in Lee Sims blog, is many peoples belief that members of existing Fan and Club based media deserve a position within any new set up. The on-going expansion of Fan Media through shows like The Cats Whiskers TV, our own AVFTB, InfernoTV etc have given an online voice to the general fan in a way mere blogs and fanzines were unable. A name, a face, a voice to the amateur broadcaster with an overwhelming passion for their team and the sport.

Productions like these take time and are a credit to those that create them (he said as modestly as he can) and while I am personally flattered by the suggestion and belief some people have that such productions can translate into a professional medium, I would fall on the other side of the argument.

My belief is that in order to retain a valid and professional approach that translates to the common sports fan, you require suitably experienced and qualified personnel to professionally present the content. This is the approach intimated by Murph in this morning’s interview.

The enthusiasm of many to want to provide assistance is admirable, but I am not saying fan and club generated media does not have a place alongside the national broadcast.

With rapidly gained experience in publicly presenting their knowledge and opinion, people such as Jono Bullard, Paul Wheeler, Aled Lloyd etc. certainly stand as a valid source of fan opinion. One that the Premier Sports coverage will undoubtedly draw on in some capacity, for short interviews etc, come the wider scope of the show. Murph has always been very accommodating in his support for those passionate fans who do their own productions, appearing on AVFTB on more than one occasion, likewise inviting members onto the GiantsLive production for discussion.

There is no reason to believe that as he helms the Premier Sports production he will not draw on the opinions of those same fans that provide fantastic and cost-free promotion and coverage for their team and the wider sport.

However the show itself will be, rightfully, left to the professionals!

And I even think David Simms will be involved in his own small way, he may divide the fanbase of the UK and at times act unprofessionally, but his experience and enthusiasm put him in the box seat for some sort of a role.

But I personally look forward to having a regular game on TV, and a fresh approach to the broadcasting of the sport in the UK. Piece by Piece we will have a change and hopefully it will be for the better. The opportunity is there.

Premier Sports have provided the medium, it’s now up to the Elite Ice Hockey League to provide the content.

Patrick Smyth