It has to be said that nowadays it’s pretty tough to find anything that’s truly ‘value for money.’ This certainly rings true in the professional sports realm where many teams and big-budget league’s have priced the average fan out of the overall picture.
I’ve been to many sporting events where the atmosphere and game experience is not really world class – but the price is truly ridiculous. Fans can get disenchanted paying a days wages to watch a game that’s not at all entertaining, and the gulf between these fans and the millionaire athletes they pay to see is huge.
If you’re tired of hearing about the marriage issues of today’s Premiere League stars, or the legal battles faced by the heroes of Major League Baseball or American football, then I have a solution for you. Travel to Coventry, Belfast or Cardiff and treat yourself to three hours in a friendly rink that you will walk away from feeling better for it!
In all these cities and many more in the UK Elite Ice Hockey League – spectators are getting real value for money – and are being treated to a brand of game that is fan friendly, and the athletes they support are accessible and down to earth.
I’m not saying that you can compare the EIHL to the NFL or EPL in budget or scope, not even close, but if you want to see a great game, and pay less than £15 for a ticket then the EIHL is simply a fantastic product.
I was in Cardiff recently with some colleagues to cover the Belfast Giants at the Devils. The Giants were in first place with the Devils sitting in fifth – so a good game was on the agenda. The Cardiff Bay Arena is a 2,000 seat facility affectionately know as the ‘Big Blue Tent.’ It was a Sunday afternoon in December and the place was packed! The atmosphere electric, the beer prices unbelievably low, and the fans are beyond knowledgeable. What do you think you get with these ingredients? You get three hours entertainment for less than £20…that my friends is ‘Value for Money!’
Of course you’ll say that the NHL is where it’s at, and you’d be right. But if you live in the UK then it’s a long way to Vancouver or Boston. It isn’t however that big a deal to get to Cardiff or the other stops in the league. Three hours on the train from London, and you’re in an atmosphere that rivals and betters many Canadian Major Junior or University hockey games, and is far better than many North American minor pro setups.
These UK clubs work hard in their communities and the athletes and coaches are readily available for a quote or interview. The players realize it’s not the NHL – but work just as hard at their craft as their NHL brothers do. They are professional hockey players – and they are the real deal.
I was going to give a regular game report from that Sunday in Cardiff – but it would seem silly now to discuss stats and breakdowns – no, the pleasure was all mine looking back on the smile I got from being on hand. The Giants won 4-2, the Devils played hard but ran into penalty trouble, with maybe a few questionable calls from an unpopular zebra…but everyone in attendance saw a great game. Big hits, beauty goals and a heavyweight tilt that had everyone standing. It was what hockey is all about. There were families and children, there was a 50/50 draw and affordable merchandise. It was simply put – a fantastic day of sport for my colleagues and myself.
If you haven’t been to a game in the UK Elite League – do yourself a favour – bundle up the family and take a few hours out of your weekend for a truly great sporting experience…an experience that may make you feel like sport is accessible to real fans again.
Thanks to Brent Pope and Gerad Adams of the Devils, and the supporters club that made us feel more than welcome in Cardiff. Also thanks to Todd Kelman and Doug Christiansen of the Giants.
Don’t just take my word for it sports fans – get out and support the hockey teams in your area – you won’t be sorry.
You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce