It’s almost EHL time again, a strange tournament if you compare it for example to the Australian AHL or the Indian HIL. Inherent to our European culture it is a tournament where the best of the best want to excel, but… where we will also give opportunities to offer a taste of “the real thing” to clubs and countries who, in all honesty, are not up to the level. Comparisons are always difficult and often unfair. But if you were to look for similar tournaments around the world you would still probably end up down under in Australia for the AHL. In Asia it would be the HIL and I doubt they have anything like this on the African or American continents.
So in Australia it is pretty simple and straightforward. There are lots of regional club competitions spread around in different states in a setting that might look like a distant relative to the European club scene. But once a year different states will form a team of the best of the best and they take on each other in a tournament called the Australian Hockey League or AHL. This is a top level tournament where teams are composed of the best players willing to represent this state, but not limited to those living in or originating from that state. Some European players have played there as well… For a couple of weeks they will battle each other for the AHL title and these games are also the selection scene for the top players wishing to represent their country. There are no relegations to nor promotions from “lower” divisions. Every year the same state-teams will compose their team and compete at the highest level. Not a lot of innovations came from the AHL over the years (if any…). However the Australian federation has experimented with other formats and rules in other tournaments over the years such as the Hockey 9’s… though none of these found their way to the global scene.
India is different… as usual. India does not have anything like our club scene. Impossible because of a lot of reasons. So in India they organise several tournaments. Some “employer-based” where for example the teams for the army will play the postal workers or teams representing other major employers. Some “sponsor-based” where local or regional sponsors have their teams compete in short term tournaments. But since a couple of years the biggest Asian hockey event is without doubt the Hockey India League or HIL. The HIL is about money and prestige and also a way for India to select and train those who could represent their country. It is an event that would come closest to the entertainment sector we know around the world as US sports, like the NBA, NFL or MLB. Very rich individuals/companies buy a franchise-team to enter the event and compete with each other for the entertainment of the masses, the promotion of their brand but also just for the love of the game. Similar to the well known American sports there are owners, general managers, coaches, drafts/auctions and a lot of focus on the TV format and entertainment value of it all. The HIL has also provided it’s share of innovations to our game of hockey such as the auctions and team franchises and lately the 2 point rule for field goals. Though none of these innovations have found their way to the global hockey until now.
The European EHL is different. Organised around the club teams from different nations with more of a focus on the TV format and entertainment value than regular national club competitions but still heavily focussed on the sport itself rather than entertainment. The EHL has given us many innovations. Not all were there to stay but for example the self-pass rule has proven to be a game changer for the best of this sport at the global level beyond the EHL. In the beginning a lot of attention was also given to the entertainment aspect of it all with lots of camera angles and innovations in the way the game was shown to the TV audience. Later on the focus switched to innovations in the rules of the game itself. These innovations were of course cheaper (in times of budget restrains and difficulties of adding new sponsors) to implement than those impacting the way we show the game to its audience.
Personally I think today the hockey family is in need of less changes in the rules of the game for a while, but maybe the attention in innovation could be turned once again towards the way we show the game to the world. In my opinion the new Spanish owners of the EHL format should focus on innovations in “broadcasting” the game and probably “broadcasting” would not be the correct term anymore. The youth in our western world has turned away from broadcasting. The TV is not the main screen anymore in our households. That is where the focus should be for the next years. Innovations in the way we present the game to the fans. It might also be the only way to keep the sponsors we need on board… Think more interactivity, more stats for the viewer to play around with themselves, chosing your own camera angle live, your own slow-mo, creating your own compilations, umpire cams, etc….
But whatever the path the EHL will choose… I’m looking forward to some great hockey during the Easter days in Amsterdam followed by the Finals in Barcelona at the end of the European club competitions in the month of May. If you’re not able to follow it live in Amsterdam and/or Barcelona this is where you will get your “hockey-fix” : www.ehlhockey.tv Enjoy!