Swindon Wildcats look towards a bright hybrid future following success of UK ice hockey’s Streaming Series
UK ice hockey returned to action thanks to a ground-breaking partnership between three clubs, the NIHL and TicketCo Media Services.
The sport was plunged into an unforgiving shutdown when all rinks in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland were forced to close from mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though the ice hockey leagues across the UK are yet to resume play, NIHL National League clubs Swindon Wildcats, Milton Keynes Lightning and Sheffield Steeldogs have sparked hope for the future following its successful Streaming Series. The three-team series was created to determine if a season can go ahead.
The three clubs competed behind closed doors with each match broadcasted live online via TicketCo Media Services pay-per-view live streaming service. It enabled the clubs to stress-test the NIHL’s ‘Return to Play’ protocols, compete, engage with ice hockey fans, and generate crucial revenue.
Whether this season will take place amid the COVID-19 restrictions is still to be decided and an announcement is expected soon.
Meanwhile we caught up with Swindon Wildcats’ managing director Steve Nell to discuss how the Streaming Series went and his plans with TicketCo Media Services.
The Streaming Series was organised as a pilot event to prove that ice hockey could function under strict COVID-19 protocols.
But make no mistake, all six games were fiercely competitive with Sheffield Steeldogs eventually lifting the inaugural Streaming Series championship. For Mr Nell, the competition also provided starved UK ice hockey fans with a much-needed morale boost following more than seven months of no competitive action.
“The series was a tremendous success,” he said. “A lot of work went into getting all the games on, and we were delighted with the reaction of supporters across the UK. For my team, it provided a real morale boost to ahead of what is usually our busiest time of the year. Live streaming was an element we wanted to add to our business model this season before COVID-19.
“To host a tournament like the Streaming Series and understand that there is an audience beyond the rink has injected real optimism into the club regarding the future and connecting with our fans that cannot attend matches.”
Like many other sports clubs across the country, Wildcats’ income streams had stalled while the country was locked down.
The 2,603 tickets sold for both home matches therefore provided the club with an essential cash injection. By partnering with TicketCo Media Services, Mr Nell and his team were able to generate further income via our upsell functionality.
“We charged £12 for a single streaming ticket,” he said. “But we provided our loyal fanbase with the opportunity to purchase a family ticket where each additional viewer watching the stream could contribute an additional £3 to help our club during these challenging times.
“Providing a live streaming service was cost-effective for us too. We had five people working on the stream for each game – one cameraman, a commentator, and three people working on the technical side. We had to limit numbers to ensure we met the strict COVID-19 measures we had to put in place.”
High demand for streaming
Wildcats’ home game against Milton Keynes Lightning on Saturday, November 14, was the first of the tournament’s six fixtures – and the first ice hockey match in the UK for almost seven months. Demand was understandably high for streaming tickets as viewers tuned in from across the World to watch stars including Josh Batch, Russ Cowley, and Matt Myers take to the ice.
“Communication between ourselves and TicketCo Media Services was constant in the build-up to our home games,” said Mr Nell. “We have invested in improving our internet capabilities within the rink and were pleased with the smooth results with fans viewing from the comfort of their own homes.
“Without the capabilities of live streaming and TicketCo Media Services modern technology, the Streaming Series would not have been possible.”
So, has the Streaming Series’ success story opened fresh avenues for additional income for ice hockey clubs in the UK once the season begins?
Mr Nell said: “Fans from all over the country tuned in, which we expected as our first game was the first ice hockey match to be hosted in the UK for some time. But there is a bigger picture. By live streaming games in the future, we will be able to connect with a completely new fanbase – fans that might not be able to travel to our venue because of health, financial, or transport reasons.
“The possibilities to market our games are endless when you have the ability to reach out to a global audience. Live streaming can supplement the income we are able to generate from hosting limited capacity crowds to build a strong financial future.”
Mr Nell has since urged other professional and semi-professional clubs to explore the capabilities of TicketCo Media Services live streaming service as fans are gradually welcomed back into rinks.
He said: “Live streaming can be as simplistic as you want it to be. We have goals to expand our service by offering additional camera angles and enhanced graphics in the future, but these are not necessary. Any club at any level can benefit from the capabilities of live streaming.
“For my club, I would be very happy if we can attract 500 people to watch our live stream for future games that are impacted by COVID-19 in terms of how many people we can allow into the rink. It’s a realistic target considering that we will be able to reach out to away supporters, sponsors, and our own fans that cannot attend the game physically.”
Many took to social media after the final buzzer rang out at the conclusion of Cats’ game against Sheffield Steeldogs.
One fan said: “Great webcast, very much enjoyed by a couple of Steelers fans here. Hope you all get to play again soon, be it something where fans can attend or another streaming series. Best of luck Wildcats!”
Another added: “Thoroughly enjoyed both of the games – so great to see hockey back! Thank you for all the hard work which made it happen.”
And: “Great webcasts, thanks to everyone involved!”