Grow the sport... but how? 1

Grow the sport… but how?

This year we saw the emergence of a new tournament, one that was set to replace the cherished Champions Trophy.

When I heard about it, I had my doubts (mostly because I loved the Champions Trophy and I know many players did too) and although I want it to come back someday, now that I’ve seen how exciting Pro League is, I’m happy with it and I’m not missing Champions Trophy… at least for now.

Of course it has its pros and cons, the most difficult thing for the teams is the money they have to spend to travel all around the world in order to play (let’s remember Pakistan was kicked out of the League because they didn’t have the money for the first round of the tournament). We can also note how tiresome it must be for the players travel from west to east and north to south of the world and being away from home for so long in order to play.

But players say there’s nothing like to play at home and they enjoy it a lot and that’s great.

As a fan, I remember the last time las Leonas played in the country before the Pro League was in December, 2015 in the province of Rosario.

The possibility to watch our Leonas in hockey tournaments at home are delightful and always welcome. My favourite? Argentina vs Netherlands. “El clásico” as we call it here is always exciting and unforgettable.

So thank you FIH for giving me and many Argentine long time fans the possibility to witness “El Clásico” and many other matches on home soil. I also think a great feature of Pro League is the addition of penalty shootouts every time the game ends in a tie. It’s exciting and a great opportunity to watch the amazing skills from many players.

So although I had my doubts, Pro League got me hooked. BUT, how about non hockey fans? Is this new tournament working when it comes to attract new fans? Because for people that are already enlightened by the beauty of field hockey, Pro League is great. Kudos to the Federation for that. But I ask again: is this new tournament doing enough to attract new fans? And if it’s not, what can FIH do to reach that goal?

Grow the sport... but how? 2
The Pro League is great… but is FIH doing enough to grow the sport?

 

Start at the basics

Well, personally I haven’t heard anyone say to me: “hey have you seen that new tournament on ESPN? The new one… I think is Pro League or something. Is so great! I’m a hockey fan now!”

And correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think any of you had that experience as well.

The comparison of our beloved sport to the King Sport, namely football, is always unfair and not so welcome by many. And believe me, I don’t like it either. But if we want our fan base to grow we have to look at football.

And how are fans created in football? Well, it all starts when one of our loved ones, takes us when we are kids to a club match or sits with us every weekend to watch his/her team. It’s like a ritual, somethings precious and untouchable, something that creates in your brain a pattern that’s unbreakable and you come to love. That’s why many would prefer to see their club become the next champion instead of their national team. Club owners know that pretty well and that’s why they promote their club giving their fans the latest fan experience and by being very active through social media.

So what is hockey doing at a club level? It’s great that hockey players take their sons and daughters to their clubs, but is that enough? What are club owners doing and, more importantly, what is FIH doing to work at the basics, at a club level?

We don’t even know the names of the clubs in hockey countries, we don’t know which ones are the best ones out there and where the top players play. For example, have you ever heard of Club Ciudad de Buenos Aires (where Carla Rebecchi or Julieta Jankunas play) or GEBA (where many Leonas play and Luciana Aymar used to play)? Those are the two greatest clubs in Argentina and I bet people in Germany, Netherlands or any other country in Europe haven’t even heard about them.

But why is it important?

Well, what do you think when you hear the names Champions League or Copa Libertadores? Those are two of the most prestigious tournaments in football. Shouldn’t be nice to have something similar in hockey?

Rivalries are something that drives fans all over the world. Messi vs Ronaldo, Barcelona vs Real Madrid… Those are two of the most famous rivalries out there and even people who don’t like football know about. We can have that in hockey, but again: it all goes back to the basics.

FIH did something great with the Pro League, but is wasting a lot of potential at a club level. They shouldn’t be caring about changing the rules of the sport to make it more enticing and attractive to people. Hockey fans are loyal, one of the most loyal fan bases out there so we won’t go anywhere but is time for the federation to step up and start working at a club level. If they do it right they’ll collect the fruits of their work. If they do it I’m confident we won’t need to worry about hockey getting kicked out of the Olympics and stuff like that again.

Hockey can be prolific, can be one of the most important sports out there. We have seen it at the Olympics, we have seen how attractive it can be for people. But all that potential, all that advertising it gets at the Olympics goes to waste and becomes nothing during those 4 years of an Olympic cycle.

We have seen the lack of good short corner shooters in women’s hockey and even in men’s hockey. That play should be trained and trained and trained at a club level but for some reason is not happening that way. If clubs had competitions at an international level I’m sure they would train that play much more they do it nowadays, in the same way they do it in their national teams. And so when the players get called for national duty they could be three or more reliable shooters, instead of just one or two. Just imagine having three or four Martjee Paumens instead of just one in your national team. How amazing that would be?

And I’m just naming shooters.

Yes, hockey has a lot of potential but it is time to stop being a snob and open our minds. Hockey will never be football (and personally, I don’t want it to become it) but it can be bigger and better. The potential is there, they just have to take advantage of it.