Magic Sports Weekly – Blog Post #3

by | Mar 22, 2024 | Uncategorized

The Rise of Professional Ice Hockey in the UK

Despite being most closest associated with Canada and the United States, ice hockey has evolved to be a sport which is popular internationally. The United Kingdom is no exception, with recreational and semi-professional leagues being played throughout all four nations of the UK.

In terms of professional-level ice hockey, the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) is the pro league for the United Kingdom. Professional ice hockey has been played in the UK since the 1930s and the Great Britain team won the Olympic gold medal in 1936.

However, the EIHL was formed in 2003, replacing the Ice Hockey Superleague (ISL) as the top-tier league in the country. The league consists of teams from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and has ten teams: Belfast Giants, Cardiff Devils, Glasgow Clan, Fife Flyers, Dundee Stars, Nottingham Panthers, Guildford Flames, Sheffield Steelers, Manchester Storm and Coventry Blaze.

The EIHL season runs from September to April, with each team playing a regular season schedule followed by playoffs to determine the league champion. The league also competes in the Challenge Cup, a separate tournament held within the regular season.

While the level of play in the EIHL may not be as high as in some of the top North American or European leagues, it still features skilled players from around the world, including former NHL players and top European talent. A significant portion of EIHL players are imports, predominantly from North America. 

The growth of the sport within the UK has been significant, particularly in recent years. Ice hockey is now the number-one attended indoor professional sport in the UK and overall it is the third largest winter spectator sport in the UK after football and rugby union. As the UK already has such a close cultural link to sports such as football, rugby, cricket and golf, it is impressive that a minority sport has been able to grow in this way and attract passionate, hardcore fanbases across the country.

EIHL games typically attract thousands of spectators to arenas across the UK, especially for teams with strong fan bases like the Nottingham Panthers, Sheffield Steelers, and Cardiff Devils. In the current 2023/24 season, the Sheffield Steelers have the highest average attendance record with 7 636. However, television viewership numbers for EIHL games are generally lower compared to major sports broadcasts. This is primarily due to the fact that games are streamed through individual pay-per-view webcasts, and are not shown on main broadcasting networks such as TNT Sports or Sky Sports.

The sport’s visibility in the UK is also impacted by media coverage. While ice hockey  receives attention from dedicated hockey websites, local newspapers, and on social media, it does not typically feature in mainstream sports coverage or attract the same level of sponsorship and commercial interest as other, more established sports.

Overall, professional ice hockey is still very much an emerging sport within the United Kingdom. The EIHL has dedicated and passionate fanbases which have increased in size over the years, but for now ice hockey remains a more niche sport within the UK sports landscape.

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