So much has changed from the early 1990s when our colleague and columnist Nick Irvine commentated on hockey for Sky Sports at Birmingham University. A single camera set-up with rudimentary graphics, a yellow, sandy pitch and a dirty white ball probably made for a viewing experience (the pictures I stress, not the commentary) that drove people to other sporting options faster than a Wapping Hockey Club pint race. (Watch them on YouTube!).
So why, when technology has moved so far forwards and the number of channels available has multiplied beyond belief are our own indoor finals not going to be on TV? I think the problem lies in that we are now used to high quality hockey content from every corner of the planet, taking for granted the costs of the production to put together the professional studio shows that we now take for granted.
It has taken a long time with any number of challenges to see hockey on digital and terrestrial channels, epic events such as the success of the GB women in Rio have a catalyst effect, having your sport seen by 9 million people on prime-time telly tends to do that, but it all started a long time ago.
When the FIH decided to change the rights fees for competitions (the amount a governing body pays to host top events) and then control its own TV output it meant more consistent coverage, more cameras, better replays, but increased expectations. Video umpires being integrated into the game relied upon the work of several cameras and a director who knew what they were doing. Potentially a big screen for the crowd to also understand what was going on. Amazing technology but adding tens’ if not hundreds of thousands onto an event budget. But as the game evolved, rules changed, timings were altered, the coverage changed to match it. Multi-million-pound value in kind deals with companies such as Star Sports and BT Sports have seen more regular international hockey on TV, complementing the long standing coverage of the EHL and what is now 5 years of the Hockey India League.
We all recognise that in our increasingly digital, content driven, immediate gratification world every sport is fighting for its place, sprinting to stand still as other sports are added to the schedule for global events. It is this that causes hockey it’s problem and why the indoors isn’t on TV. At the beginning, back at Birmingham University, Sky offered one camera, broadcast quality to create our hockey magazine show. Now, two Go-Pros and some wifi can see a match delivered via live stream to the world and the quality would be better than those early Birmingham days. Our expectation now is to see touch screens analysis at half-time, suited pundits, super-slow motion replays but unfortunately that all carry’s a cost. With limited budgets and a full calendar of international hockey events now available to them a producer such as BT will look at the England Hockey Super Sixes and cost it as a three-day project (set-up, production, break down) for a two-hour show from an outside broadcast location and decide it isn’t worth the money!
Should England Hockey then pay for that coverage at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds? I don’t think they should. It would be funded from club subscription money and that could be better spent elsewhere.
Instead, let’s get creative, let’s use our domestic events to create content for our passionate, knowledgeable hockey audience. Let’s stream it with go-pros, hand held cameras, get comments from our armchair experts and sofa based fans. Let our valuable partners such as BT deliver as much as they want from the international arena, but let’s take back control of our domestic coverage. Stream more, centralise the content from the clubs on an England Hockey channel, use clubs who already putting things online, incorporate the Monday Night Hockey programme from Galvanised Media but expand it. Let’s create a model where every club knows how to stream hockey. Let’s take hockey to the masses by using the technology and expertise available to us.
Get one of the coaches in a club to voice over the first team highlights from the weekend, stop people watching cats falling off window ledges on YouTube, let them watch the first team captain with goal of the day, or blooper of the month. Create local heroes and then with such an overwhelming block of content we can not only all watch hockey when we like, how we like, but we can actively encourage the production companies to do more. Or Wapping can simply challenge them to a pint-race.