From equipment purchase to global streaming in two weeks: how UK ice clubs have returned to action

by | Mar 5, 2021

The Spring Cup has seen ice hockey return to action in the UK, after months of inactivity.

Matches are taking place as part of the National Ice Hockey League’s Return to Play process. But with fans unable to return, clubs contesting the Spring Cup have turned to live streaming to enable supporters to watch and generate revenue. Behind every TicketCo Media Services live stream, is a person or team dedicated to producing the smoothest content possible. Some of the clubs had no previous experience of streaming fixtures to a global audience.

So how did they earn the praises of supporters for providing a cost-effective, pay-per-view, HD quality streaming solution less than a fortnight after investing in the technology?

Fast set up

The Spring Cup is being contested by five teams: Swindon Wildcats, Sheffield Steeldogs, Telford Tigers, Bees Ice Hockey Club and Raiders. All fixtures are being streamed exclusively via TicketCo Media Services and the competition is well underway.

Once the cup was confirmed the real worked started behind the scenes, for Telford, Bees and Raiders who had no previous experience of live streaming.

“We’ve produced highlight packages previously from a single fixed camera,” said Ian Howles, Marketing Manager at Telford Tigers. “We’re no strangers to filming, but live streaming is completely new to the team.

“Ultimately, Katie Edwards, myself and an army of club volunteers had two weeks to purchase the necessary equipment, establish how it is used, test our stream and then deliver it to our fans.”

Developing a live stream

With advice provided by our team and our useful ’10 Steps to Streaming Success’ Welcome Pack, clubs invested in equipment to provide fans with a reliable streaming service. Remarkably, just 15 days separated Tigers’ first meeting with TicketCo and its debut live stream that was watched by fans across the UK and in countries including Germany, Canada and America.

Katie said: “We knew we would need to invest in new equipment, our previous camera was old and not appropriate for live streaming. After purchasing new kit and understanding how it worked, we had to establish a streaming and ticketing platform while finalising our branding and everything else associated with the game in two weeks.”

“Initially we considered live streaming the games ourselves, but we quickly realised this would be an unrealistic venture,” added Ian. “Trial events by filming training sessions proved to us just how simple setting up a live stream can be but investing time in understanding the kit you are working with is important.”

Essential preparation

Bees Ice Hockey Club were in a similar position to Telford when the Spring Cup was announced. Director Stuart Robinson has been involved in running the club since 2007. He and his team pre-identified equipment the club would require to live stream games and had invested in a new fibre cable at their home rink.

He said: “The existing fibre line wasn’t sufficient, so we had to make that investment – there was no choice. I wanted our stream to be easy to access for all supporters and set a benchmark for other clubs to follow.

“I’m mindful we have many fans who are of the older generation and might find signing up to a live stream quite a complicated process. We prepared clear and thorough instructions for everyone to read and that paid off – we didn’t receive a single query throughout the entire game which was a real shock.”

Gaining fans’ trust

For Mr Robinson and his colleagues, establishing fans’ trust in the club’s live streaming model is an important priority.

“We received nothing but positive feedback from our supporters regarding out first live stream event,” he said. “Some suggested additional pieces of content like player interviews and graphics, but that is all a work in progress.

“What’s important to me is the togetherness of hockey clubs in the Spring Cup. Board members of each club have all engaged positively with each other to make each of our streams a success – we want this fresh revenue stream to operate beyond the pandemic so we can make ice hockey accessible to everyone.

“In order for that to happen, we need to deliver a smooth and professional stream from day one. With the support and hard work of many club volunteers plus TicketCo, we have managed to achieve this.”

Investing in the future

For Bees Ice Hockey Club, live streaming will provide a vital lifeline for the club and its fans in future seasons. That is because the club was made homeless last summer when the John Nike Leisure Centre closed. Consequently, the club now operates at the Slough Ice Arena – a half-an-hour drive from their former home.

Ordinarily, fans would only be able to watch the Bees by attending fixtures in person. But thanks to live streaming, the club has made watching fixtures accessible to all when COVID-19 restrictions conclude.

Mr Robinson added: “Live streaming is an important investment for the club’s future. It is a terrible shame we can no longer play in our hometown, but we had two choices – fold the club, or relocate. Slough Ice Arena holds 850 supporters and last season we were hosting larger numbers than that for home games, so there is an obvious problem. But fans restricted by travel, health or financial reasons that cannot make the trip to Slough each Sunday can now tune in from home.

“The Spring Cup is essentially a test event for the club’s future business model.”

Top streaming tips

Now both clubs have experienced the power of live streaming multiple times, what tips would they offer to teams or venues considering monetising events via live streaming?

Ian said: “Following conversations with other clubs, we knew we would require someone to control our inquiry inbox to help customers that couldn’t access their stream. For us, that was crucial. In our example, our investment in new camera equipment also means our coaching team has access to improved video technology that can be used as a coaching tool to enhance players’ development. It’s important to view your outgoings as a worthwhile investment.”

Stuart added: “Test your event. And once you have done enough testing, test again – it’s crucial ticket buyers have faith in what they are investing in so make sure what you are providing is of high quality.

“We are lucky that our title sponsor TSI World have shared a passion to produce a professional looking product by working closely with TicketCo throughout.”

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Written by Greig Box Turnbull

Experienced communications and strategic PR advisor, with a strong background in journalism and public relations. Founder of Fortitude Communications, director of Oxford City ice hockey club and Vice Chair of Oxford United in the Community. A former Daily Mirror journalist and Oxford United FC managing director.

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