Sheffield Steeldogs, Hull Pirates, Leeds Chiefs and NIHL National rivals target January start for 'meaningful' league season and playoffs

NIHL NATIONAL team owners have declared their desire to aim for a shortened league season starting in January.

Friday, 4th December 2020, 8:28 pm
Sheffield Steeldogs' Ben Lake battles for possession against Swindon Wildcats in the recent Streaming Series. Picture: Cerys Molloy

Owners met earlier this week to analyse the success of the recent Streaming Series which saw three teams - Sheffield Steeldogs, Milton Keynes Lightning and Swindon Wildcats - play a behind-closed-doors tournament with each game streamed online to paying fans.

It’s believed each game averaged just over 1,000 streaming tickets being sold and while there was initially talk of staging some kind of cup competition in December, it now seems that teams - who also include Steeldogs' Yorkshire rivals Leeds Chiefs and Hull Pirates - are targetting a league campaign next month instead, culminating in the traditional end-of-season playoffs.

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Hull Pirates and Leeds Chiefs could be back in action along with their NIHL National rivals in January. Picture: Dean Woolley.

The owners also revealed they were continuing to liaise with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to see whether any funding will be made available.

But, before any firm dates or a schedule can be drawn up, owners will look to clarify a number of points, most importantly the financial viability of running a season which allows limited or potentially no attendance depending on the different Tier levels and how this is impacted if and when Tier levels change.

Other issues that need to be addressed include the plans of the various rink operators and their ability to stage behind-closed-doors games, plus formulating plans for how best to safely support the return of fans to games where that is allowed.

As it stands, six of the 10 rinks used by NIHL National teams are in Tier 2 areas, which in theory means they will be allowed to let in up to 50 per cent capacity crowds or 1,000 people, whichever is smaller.

Adam Barnes fires in a shot during last season's Elland Road clash against Sheffield Steeldogs. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss.

Leeds, Sheffield and Slough, where Bracknell Bees are slated to play after their rink was closed, are in Tier 3 areas, which are not allowed to let fans back in. It is the same situation in Hull, although the Pirates' home is not expected to be ready for use for several months while £1m worth of refurbishment work is carried out, meaning Jason Hewitt's team will need to find an alternative venue for their home matches, with Leeds being one potential option.

“We are looking across all these issues to understand our ability to put a meaningful league competition in place beginning in January,” added the statement, with the owners due to meet again on December 16.

Steeldogs’ co-owner, Roger Williams said the announcement was a step in the right direction.

“We’re confident that something will take place starting in January, there is certainly a collective will among the owners to make this happen,” said Williams.

“We got involved in the Streaming Series because we wanted to show what was possible, we wanted to get hockey back and felt that, both on an overall level and a club level, it was a massive success and we were very keen to get on with whatever can happen next.

“The Streaming Series has shown that something can be done and there’s a determination across the owners to make something happen and do it on a bigger scale.”