Real revolutions do not follow the downtrodden path

Hockey Revolution
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In the days to come all kinds of dignitaries and administrators in our game of hockey will gather in New Delhi, India for the 2018 FIH congress. Discussing the Hockey Revolution, a.k.a. the FIH strategy for 2014-2024. By now we are halfway in their documented long term strategy baptised the Hockey Revolution. But as the new CEO Thierry Weil already pointed out: can we really call it a revolution? Or is it rebottling old wine into new bottles and sticking a fancy label on it.

While hardly anyone is noticing it, I do think the future of our sport will be decided in the years to come. We are at a turning point…

We’ve seen the FIH struggle after the warning message it got following the London Olympics in 2012. While on site everybody was loving it. The Riverbank Arena sold out every day and was a wonderful setting to showcase our game of hockey to the world. But these days success is not measured (by the IOC) looking at the attendance in the stadium anymore, nor the quality of the sport offered. But rather about how much buzz you create online we were told. And we, as a sport, got a bad report card for digital presence in 2012… So the FIH came up with the Hockey Revolution during their 2014 congress in Marakesh, Marocco (why there you might wonder?) and came up with the answers during the 2016 congress in Dubai (yet another hockey capital of the world?).  The FIH claims some success since according to them they came in 3rd among all sports (behind football and athletics) at the Rio 2016 Games (see our talks in 2017 with Jason McCracken, the FIH CEO back then).

When I outed some major concerns about the choices made in recent years in a column entitled “The end of hockey” the new (and current) CEO Thierry Weil called me to talk about his views on this. We published these as well (check it here) and remember especially his commitment to add the development of our game around the world (= growing hockey participation = active players) more explicitly at the top of the FIH mission soon.

The congress about to start in New Delhi will be the moment to make this official 😉 I do agree with his assessment our so called revolution has not really been very revolutionary… but fear we might have different ideas on the road taken and changes to choose from.

Real revolutions do not follow the downtrodden path

The goal of this so called revolution should not be to reinvent our sport and try and force new formats such as Hockey5s or ridiculous rule changes as tested in Australia these days down our throats. They have invented this Hockey5s monstrosity and now try to sell us on its non existing success in every way possible. I do agree a short format of our game could be a part of the marketing mix to help grow our sport. But I’ve already talked about that on other occasions, so will not go into this right now any further.

I do like the concept of the FIH Pro League, about to launch in 2019 and another by-product from the Hockey Revolution. At least here we have some revolutionary ideas with a global home & away league. True… this comes with several challenges and threats as well. Especially for the traditional strong club leagues in western Europe. But I’m sure ways could be found to allow for both to co-exist. These traditional European club leagues could use some revolutionary changes themselves in order to remain (or become) relevant.

But my main fear is we are looking too much at changing the sport instead of changing the way we market the sport!

The revolution according to me should be how can we find innovative ways to show the general sports public what a great (existing!) sport we have for them. Let’s be more creative in our marketing of the game (in the broadest sense of the word) and not do what all other entertainment sports are already doing. Let’s be really revolutionary and find other ways to promote our team sport than creating individual heroes (in a team sport) and pushing new formats down the throats of hockey fans. We are an established sport, an Olympic sport, with millions of fans and (more importantly) active players around the world. We are leading the way in gender balance and one of few sports played at top level on all continents. Let’s start from what we have already and start expanding upon this instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. That, for me, makes much more sense than creating a new sport and try to build a fanbase from scratch for this. Or worse cannibalise on the existing fanbase for the existing format. But the main message here is, let’s be revolutionary in the way we market our sport instead of copying what everybody else is doing…

Individual awards do not help hockey

I’m a big fan of a certain umpire. That might come as a surprise for some. But even though I often voice my concerns about the lack of quality of many umpires, we do need these men and women to enjoy our game of hockey. Nobody will contradict that, I think. The umpire in question is Laurine Delforge, a young and very talented umpire who manages to combine a playing career at the highest level – she is, still today, a striker for a Belgian club and multiple national champion – with her studies back in the days and today a corporate career as a lawyer and last but not least an umpiring career. She was the first and only umpire to get awarded the Olympic final on her debut Olympics. This alone already means you can not but admire her time management skills and determination. But there’s more…

When interviewed for a Belgian newspaper about, among other things, her debut as a female umpire for the male Euro Hockey League she was reminded by the journalist about her FIH award following the Rio Olympics in 2016 as the best umpire in the world. Her response was very telling :

Meaning she is humble enough to realise these awards should not be taken very serious. Though maybe less obvious, umpiring too is a teamsport and in a teamsport there is no value in any individual award.

I detest these individual awards, golden sticks, MVP’s, best player etc… even more for the players. Most of these include votes from the public meaning it’s nothing more than just a popularity contest. And they’re examples of marketing the game it has always been done. It’s a tool from the past! I think it does not have any real added value. Sure, it’s always nice and flattering for those elected but that’s it, nothing more.
They often claim these individual awards help promote our sport. It helps to create heroes and idols, they say. Of course it is a lot easier for media to write flattering things about players when you can refer to several awards they got in the past. It’s much easier compared to actually describing why you think these are outstanding players. Because in order for press to do this they would have to invest time in understanding and following the game instead of just acting like a parrot by repeating what others have claimed before. However it doesn’t help the game of hockey! We get 5 minutes of attention (at best) and immediately after it’s forgotten again. We should help media really sell our sport instead of filling in some random content for their newspaper or TV show.

Invest in quality as your marketing tool

Quality in event organising on site as well as on screen, quality in TV images, quality in commentators (entertainers, educators and our sales reps!), meaningful stats every game, educational and entertaining graphics, …. Find new and exciting ways to bring our sport to the multiple screens we have today. Stop focussing on broadcasting only and really invest in multi-channel casting, cross media or whatever the latest buzz word you want to use. Focus on the media used by the public we’re aiming for.
However we do not want our future fans to force their so called “short span of attention” on our game. We want to educate them on the value of focus, skills and determination. Our short format of the game should not cater to the whims of today’s youth but help grab their attention in a way close to their interests and their ways of communication in order to educate them about the value of our sport. A sport should adapt to the modern times and not be stuck in the old ways. But not by throwing out the old and replacing it with the hype of the day. Stay close to the roots of our game and evolve slowly, tweak and improve the game instead of change because of change!

So instead of inventing or try to create new hypes such as Hockey5s, we should focus on innovative and quality marketing as the fuel to the growth of our game. Let’s not do what other sports are doing but be creative and innovative to promote our game of hockey.

Improve the way we bring hockey to the screens

Why not bring in multiple commentator teams and channels for each game. Give your viewer (on whatever screen) a choice for his commentator channel:

  1.  Novice channel : with more explaining about the rules. “No it’s not because the crowd starts cheering it is a goal, the ball has to be touched within the D by the scoring team”.
  2. Chit chat channel : with some more gossip and well… chit chat. “Did you know the big guy who just scored this incredible dragflick was seen last month with the hottest Bollywood star. She is sitting next to princess so & so, 16th in line for the throne of England, in the VIP here today.”
  3. Pro channel : with actual knowledgeable commentators who recognise running lines, smart or dumb choices, tactics and are able help understand why these athletes do what they do on the field besides telling us who just got the last touch and the goal to his name.
  4. Fan channel : without any commentator, just the noise you would experience when in the stadium.

And get someone like Javier Telechea from & in there doing his magic with the TV images showing us with graphics why the build up to this goal was extraordinary or why that one step forward before pushing the ball made all the difference on that last penalty corner goal. That would be some amazing footage for in between quarters instead of some babe asking the same old silly questions to players or coaches. Although you could/should keep on doing this for the chit chat channel probably. But get more short clips on all social media out there explaining why hockey is amazing!

Join us in the 21st century and get rid of old fashioned geo-blocking on live streams. We all get it, the rights of broadcasting partners should be protected. Hoping at least they did pay for these rights and make the effort to deliver quality (!) and enriched content to their territory. But instead of generic broadcasting deals with contract from last century join us in the today’s reality of multiple screens. Only geo-block your own online channel for those countries where for that particular game (so not for an entire tournament) your broadcasting partner is actually showing it live (!) and in full (!) on TV. Ideally on a free to air channel supported by some commercials, but we as supporters too must stop whining and accept the reality of pay per view of pay-walls on quality content.

There is so much we can still do to improve the way me bring our game to the general sports fans. We do not need to change our game (much) to get their attention. It’s in the way we bring it to them! My fellow blogger, podcaster & hockey commentator Ashley Morrison also wrote an interesting piece on all of this today, which you can read here.

Let the Hockey Revolution change the way we show hockey instead of the way we play it!