Formed in 2003 following the collapse of the Ice Hockey Superleague, the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) has established itself as the top level of the sport in the United Kingdom.
However, the competition regularly attracts criticism from within UK ice hockey, particularly with regards to its failure to adequately showcase itself.
Often overlooked by the majority of mainstream media outlets in the UK, ice hockey is the most-watched indoor sport there.
The average attendance last season was 3,043, but many fans believe that ice hockey remains one of the UK’s best-kept secrets.
The BBC and Sky Sports have both previously covered UK ice hockey, but the EIHL hasn’t had a television deal of note for some time now.
Numerous clubs have also failed to move with the times, with live streaming an alien concept to many in the corridors of power.
The lack of progressive thinking is baffling when contrasted with the mentality of other prominent competitions in Europe.
For instance, the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation (SIF) has recently signed a five-year streaming deal that it says will help with the growth of the sport across the country.
Swedish production and live streaming firm Sportway will manage the rollout of an artificial intelligence production infrastructure.
The deal sees the company become a part-owner of svenskhockey.tv, the federation’s streaming service, and the associated Svensk Hockey TV AB company.
AI production systems will be in place at 162 ice hockey arenas across Sweden by the start of the 2020/21 season, allowing for the broadcast of more than 25,000 live matches.
Anders Larsson, the SIF president, said: “This is an important step for the development of ice hockey in Sweden nationwide.
“With this new investment, up to 70 percent of all games played in Sweden from the age group of U12 up will be available live. The AI production system is an important tool to improve our sport at many levels.”
The agreement doesn’t include the top three divisions in Sweden as those leagues currently have their own broadcast rights deals in place.
That point alone perfectly highlights how far behind the curve that the EIHL is when it comes to promoting itself to a broader audience.
The league stands outside of the recognised development structure in the UK and pays little heed to forging link-ups with the lower levels of the sport.
Contrast that to Sweden, where the new AI production will be used in some of the country’s leading ice hockey arenas as matches of SHL youth teams are produced and streamed live.
Sportway’s chief executive, Daniel Franck, believes that a live streaming deal of this nature is the perfect way for Swedish ice hockey to promote itself.
“Our business model is based on low-pay subscription, yearly or monthly, and PPV (pay-per-view),” he said. “The clubs receive a kickback on their achieved sales.
“With the introduction of AI, we can fulfil our vision of making it financially viable to offer a huge number of games to a very small target group. It still makes financial sense since production costs are at a minimum without compromising on the quality of the output.”
“The more games we produce the better the quality gets thanks to the continuous machine learning. Initially, we planned for youth and junior games, but now we already have strong interest from senior clubs and also junior national teams to be on our platform svenskhockey.tv.”
An agreement of this nature could be hugely beneficial to ice hockey in the UK if the EIHL were more open to thinking outside of the box.
It would not only help with development, but if structured correctly it could provide the EIHL with the opportunity to promote the sport properly.
Removing production costs from the equation would allow the league to offer its product to higher profile broadcasters, thus showcasing itself to a much wider audience.