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Kelman explains new league format

Kelman explains new league format

Devils MD Todd Kelman explains the new league format from a Devils perspective:

I am going to outline the new format compared to last season's format from the Devils' perspective.

The table below shows the number of games against each team in league and the 1st round of the Challenge Cup last season.  We can't control who we play in further rounds of the Cup competition or the playoffs, so let's just focus on league and Cup qualifying games:

 Opponent League Cup 1st Round Total Breakdown
Sheffield 8 2 10 5 Home & 5 Away
Nottingham 8 2 10 5 Home & 5 Away
Coventry 8 2 10 5 Home & 5 Away
Belfast 8 0 8 4 Home & 4 Away
Manchester 4 2 6 3 Home & 3 Away
Dundee 4 0 4 2 Home & 2 Away
Braehead 4 0 4 2 Home & 2 Away
Edinburgh 4 0 4 2 Home & 2 Away
Fife 4 0 4 2 Home & 2 Away

Now, let's look at the current agreed format for next season, again only looking at league and the qualifying round of the Challenge Cup.

Opponent League Cup 1st Round Total Breakdown
Sheffield 8 0 8 4 Home & 4 Away
Belfast 8 0 8 4 Home & 4 Away
Nottingham 8 0 8 4 Home & 4 Away
Coventry 4 2 6 3 Home & 3 Away
Milton Keynes 4 2 6 3 Home & 3 Away
Guildford 4 2 6 3 Home & 3 Away
Manchester 4 0 4 2 Home & 2 Away
Dundee 4 0 4 2 Home & 2 Away
Braehead 4 0 4 2 Home & 2 Away
Edinburgh 4 0 4 2 Home & 2 Away
Fife 4 0 4 2 Home & 2 Away

Comparing the two tables, we are playing Sheffield and Nottingham less next season, albeit the same amount of league games.  We are playing most of our furthest travel games (Scottish teams) twice home and away.  We are playing less games in conference next season than we did this season (24 instead of 32 games). 

Since the EIHL League Title is seen as the big one to win, then it would make "sporting sense" to go a straight league of 11 teams, right?  Well that would mean 2 home and 2 away games against every team (22 home league games is not enough) or 3 home and away against every team (33 home league games is too many if we want to keep the Challenge Cup).

Also a straight league across the entire UK is an enormous amount of travel when we play back to back every weekend.  If we were a league where we could play Tuesday and Saturday, we could do that, but think about what we put the players through physically by travelling as much to Dundee as we would to Nottingham.  Also the costs for a minor-league sport have to be considered when we think of doing a straight league, not just the cost of travel, but the gate receipts that each club get from playing certain teams.

As long as the conference systems exist, the league title race looks to be skewed in favour of certain teams, but so far, the league title during the conference era has never gone to the team or teams that are thought to have an advantage in the conference system. 

However, the conference system kept the league going over the last few years when teams in Scotland wanted to play more games against each other and save on travel.  Same with the teams in our conference.  Maybe travel wasn't such a factor, but playing more games against our biggest rivals was certainly good for business. 

On Thursday April 27th, the league could have been 12 teams or could have gone down to as low as 9 teams.  If we lost 3 teams in Scotland, then would Braehead be happy with the increased cost of travel and what about the fanbases of the teams that would have been gone?  We wanted to find a solution to keep 12 teams in business.  We looked at the straight league, we looked at 2 conferences of 6 teams, and we looked at 3 conferences of 4 teams.

Now I know fans want a straight league title race, or they want a "proper" playoff race with 5 or 7 game series, but it isn't realistic with our league right now.

The reason why leagues around the world can do playoff series is because they have first right of dates during the playoff period. Do you think Sheffield Arena, the Motorpoint in Nottingham or the SSE Arena in Belfast would give up valuable guaranteed concert dates in exchange for the potential of a couple extra home gates for their teams?  Not a chance.  So let's be realistic in the thinking of what is achievable with any changes to the league or playoff structure. Could we do 3 game series instead of 2 game series?  I think we can and this is something that the league will be exploring in the off-season.  Could we change the format or eliminate the Challenge Cup completely?  We could, but the Challenge Cup is another title up for grabs and when the league is the big one, I like having another title for teams to be battling for throughout the season. 

So we essentially have:

1) A Scottish conference, which works for them and their businesses.  They save on travel, they get more games against their local rivals. 

2) An English conference, which all 4 teams seem happy with because of travel and I assume that for Coventry, they see more potential for wins in this conference.  This is not a knock on Coventry, I am trying to be honest about everything.  As much as Manchester would love to play Nottingham and Sheffield as much as possible, it makes sense for them to be in this conference along with the two new teams. But Manchester get them in the Cup, so that works out nicely for them.

3) Then there is our conference. Being in this conference does not give us more of a chance to win the league, I think it makes it harder for all 4 of us to win the league, but really no harder than last season.  We actually play less games in conference (obviously because there is 1 less team) but we have 32 games out of conference instead of 20. 

Is the league title devalued because of the conference system?  Well yes, but no more than it has been the last 5 seasons.  In fact, you could argue that with less games in conference this season, the league title is less affected by the conference system than the last 5 years. 

And is this a system to line the pockets of all the EIHL team owners?  Nope.  Teams aren't getting rich here.  We aren't sitting around the table trying to work out how much more we will have at the end of the season in our bank account by putting teams into conferences. We are trying to ensure that 3 fanbases still have a team to support and that 12 teams and their fanbases start next season looking forward to what they could achieve on the ice, not if they can survive. 

12 teams have 12 very different businesses that take into consideration their biggest rivalries, travel, away travelling support, their gate receipts against certain teams and we had to consider all of this.  Sporting integrity might tell the fans that we need to do a straight up league, get rid of the Cup and go to 7 game series for the playoffs.  But logically this can't work in the EIHL. 

So for Devils fans, this is a good thing. In a conference against the teams that I want to test ourselves against the most.  In the Cup competition first round we play against the teams that make sense geographically, gets us another 2 home games against the new teams that both tend to have some great travelling support and gets us another game against Coventry, which is our closest rival and a team we always have great games with. 

And most important of all, and the whole point of the conference system - we get to keep 12 teams in the EIHL, which should matter to all of us. 

Now my challenge to some other teams that think that the teams we share a conference with somehow have a right to bigger crowds and more income on ticket sales and sponsorship. Work harder.  Work harder every day to sell tickets and sponsorship and group packages and corporate hospitality.  The conference system is a solution to keep us all in business, but it's only half the solution.  The other part is the hard bit.  Get up and sell every day.  Open early, stay late, go to every networking event you can, hire more staff and take the chance on them bringing in more than they cost.  We don't sell out because we have a new arena or a great team.  We have a great team because we sell out and my MVPs are on the phone right now selling tickets and chasing sponsorship and out at meetings. And it's April. 


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