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Hockey is a great sport. It requires skill, power and team work. When played at its best it can be fast and entertaining. It’s also one of the more progressive sports out there in terms of opportunities for both men and women. Hockey is also played all around the globe with teams from the Oceanic, Asian, European, Pan American and African federations within the top twenty of the FIH World Rankings. However, there isn’t enough engagement with fans and spectators of the sport. Not enough is being done, within the home nations of Britain to increase the spectacle of the game and for it to become more viewer friendly. Here are some ideas from the Half Court Press for hockey to become more accessible to the general public across England, Scotland and Wales. 


London 2012, spectators of the Olympic Games. Queen Elizabeth II Park. Photo copyright; Tao MacLeod.

Clubs and Domestic Hockey

Hockey games should be more enjoyable for fans. Currently, if somebody wanted to watch their local side, or a friend or family member play, then they tend to have to stand for the duration of the fixture whilst exposed to the elements. Being that the domestic season is played during the winter months, this isn’t going to be much fun for the average sports fan in Britain. Seats and shelter should not be too much to ask. For clubs that own their own facilities providing a certain standard of comfort can be quite straightforward. Planning permission can be awarded to a community sports organisation, as most councils should be quite encouraging for such activities. Teams that play on community pitches and school turfs might have some difficulties. However, there’s no reason why arrangements for temporary seating can’t be arranged on the sides of the pitch. Also, gazebos and tenting can be put up in order to provide some protection from the wind and the rain to those who have come out to support their team. 


Additionally, for those who are based at schools on a regular basis, pre and post match entertainment can be arranged, with some element of communication and fore thought. Engagement with the school’s drama and/or music departments and extra curricular groups can, not only create more of a buzz around the side of the pitch but, bring more people to the game. When done in addition to the organisation of food and drink kiosks and other market stalls, a greater hubbub and sense of community can be created, as well as the potential for additional revenue streams for the club. This doesn’t need to be done every week, but once a month or so, perhaps when both the men’s and women’s first teams are playing at home could be a constructive way of developing a culture of attendance of matches.


London 2018, fans at the Women’s Hockey World Cup. Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre. Photo copyright; Tao MacLeod.

Attendance of Matches

Many of the elite level matches are ticketed, especially at international level. It’s not unreasonable to expect people to pay some amount of money for sporting entertainment. As long as there is a certain level of comfort and accessibility is provided from the organisers, clubs, or federations, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for some dosh in return. However, a range of prices should be available. Many fans feel like they are priced out of watching international hockey, with several of the England and Great Britain Pro League matches being played in front of broadly empty stadiums. This shows that people are hardly queuing up to watch the national team play in a mid level tournament at the prices they are being asked to pay by England Hockey. 


At the EuroHockey Qualifiers, hosted by Uddingston Hockey Club and Scottish Hockey in August, tickets were priced quite low, at around £5 on the gate. Turn out was high, in particular for the final Scotland fixture on the weekend, which saw a sell out crowd come down to support the home team. This shows me that the fan base is out there, as long as the events are marketed properly. It also indicates that the overpricing of tickets can be prohibitive at this stage of the sport’s growth within the United Kingdom. A balance needs to be found here. Yes, ticketed events are a way for hockey clubs and federations to earn some much needed monetary income, but there should be a sliding scale of pricing for entry to the venue. Additionally, I think that allowing school children and youth team players to enter for free is a positive long term policy for developing a fan culture. When I was coaching girls football in Edinburgh, whenever the Scottish Women’s National Team was playing in town, the Scottish Football Association would send out free tickets to all of the local clubs with girls and women’s teams. Parents would take their children to matches and create a positive family atmosphere within the stadium. Additionally, at the matches that I attended, I saw groups of teenagers attending in a social situation. This engagement with the local community is a method that could be copied in hockey. Competitions for people to win tickets could also be a way to entice people down to watch more hockey and engage with potential sponsors, willing to put some money in the sport. 


London 2012, hockey at the Riverbank Arena. Photo copyright; Tao MacLeod.

International Games

England/Great Britain Hockey introduced a new concept to the international hockey scene, just before the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the latter Pro League fixtures that season was played at a neighbouring rugby stadium, in London, on a temporary astroturf pitch. This was laid down for the weekend, over the top of the established grass field with all of the necessary equipment and hockey furniture transported for use for the duration of the event. Although this temporary field was only sent down the road from the national stadium, it did prompt a conversation about how this technology can be best used for the development of hockey and the greater engagement with fans around the country. 


Why not take hockey on the road? These matches were hosted at the Stoop, home of Harlequins Rugby Club, but why not go to a football, or cricket stadium in the North of England, a rugby club in Wales, or to a sports venue in Scotland? The Australians and Argentines have been playing their Pro League fixtures at different locations each time, why can’t England/Great Britain do the same thing here? It doesn’t need to be restricted to the Pro League either. The Great Britain Elite Development Programme (GB EDP) is basically the Under 23 team for the Olympic hockey squad. When they’re playing test matches, it would now be perfectly feasible to play games in a different location each time, thus giving hockey fans around the country something to sink their teeth into. Regional Development Managers could be enlisted to entice people down, team sponsors could be used to run competitions to win match day tickets and local clubs engaged in order to bus youth team players in for the creation of a better atmosphere – something that the Spanish federation seem to have gotten the hang of, with some very noisy kids regularly seen and heard at their games in Valencia. 


London 2018, England Hockey fans at the Women’s Hockey World Cup. Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre. Photo Copyright; Tao MacLeod.

Media

More and more hockey matches are being shown on television recently. With the growth of the internet and development of broadband technologies online streaming has been used to help show matches. Webcams have been used by a variety of clubs around the country to show what they are all about. However, improvements can always be made. Pre and post match analysis would be a positive step forward. Hockey pundits could be used to highlight what a team’s strengths and weaknesses are for the average spectator, provide a background story to the players, as well as cover some basic talking points. During the coverage of the match, having at least one commentator is a useful method of painting a picture for those watching at home, as is the use of more than one camera angle. Having close up shots of the goal, or different lines of sight for short corner routines helps fans and students of the game to see what is happening at any given moment. 


Glasgow 2017, Scotland Men’s goalkeeper, Tommy Alexander signing autographs for the fans at the EuroHockey Championships II Division. Glasgow Green Hockey Centre. Photo copyright; Duncan Gray.

Producers should also be conscious of what the camera is showing the viewer. Looking out onto an empty field is not the most aesthetically pleasing sight in the world. Media operatives should ask themselves if it is possible to face the camera towards a main stand, or group of spectators. We want to see a glimpse of the atmosphere at the match, we want the pretence of being at the game itself. The showing of hockey online or television is about more than just showing the match. It’s about telling the story of the contest, in a way that is accessible for the fans. It’s about creating a spectacle. 


These are just some of the ways that we can develop a fan culture within hockey. The Half Court Press would love to hear some of your ideas. What has been happening down at your club? Have you seen something that works well where you are? Let us know what you think via social media…


London 2019, Great British Hockey fans, at the Olympic Games Playoffs. Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre. Photo copyright; Tao MacLeod.