After my post on the UK Hockey League on Thursday, the reaction towards it was fairly predictable, with the UK hockey establishment piling on to agree with my initial assessment that it seemed a little “implausible” in many areas. I wrote the post and thought that was pretty much the end of it.
However, yesterday there was a new development as I was contacted by Stephen Brown, the person named in the article, offering to put the UKHL’s side of the story-a chance that I of course jumped at. As a result I had an email conversation with him to obtain his contact details and spoke to him on the phone yesterday evening. During our 20-minute conversation I was allowed to ask any question I liked…and so I did. Mr. Brown was very open with me during our conversation, answering every one and explaining in full the reasons why he couldn’t give full details in certain areas-indeed, he continually apologised for being guarded, emphasising that there were legal agreements in place that meant he couldn’t reveal all that he wanted to at this time but that everything he could, he has. I’m presenting my questions below with summaries of the answers…along with my thoughts on the information at the end. Italics are quotes from the conversation with Mr. Brown, non-italics are my additions.
1. Who is Stephen Brown?
Stephen Brown tells me he is a media/entertainment producer who has worked mainly on projects in Canada. Doing some research on the name, I was pointed to this link: http://t.co/Cc2Iew19Vd. Pay particular attention to the last two paragraphs-quoted below:
“Mr Brown lived in Harrogate until the age of 16 when he and his parents left for Canada. He later founded Vidnet, a company that became one of the world’s leading entertainment sites, streaming more than 4.5 million videos monthly and providing content to such companies as Microsoft, Disney, Lycos and Alta Vista.
It was at Vidnet that he built industry alliances with entertainment giants Sony Music, Warner Bros and EMI Capital. The company went public on the NASDAQ, reaching a market cap of more than $400 million.”
That, guys, would mean there’s some SERIOUS muscle behind the UKHL.
2. How did the UKHL idea come about?
“I saw my first UK hockey game a few months ago when I went to one of the finals. (the timing and the reference to a “crowd of 7,000” would lead me to believe the game concerned is either one of the legs of the Challenge Cup Final, likely the leg in Sheffield as Mr. Brown is based in Harrogate, or the playoff finals). Watching the sport and seeing the crowd made me think that ice hockey could be a much bigger sport in the UK were the organising bodies not in disarray. I’m part of a group of people who think the creation of a new league in the UK along the lines of the NHL would be an ideal template to help the game grow in this country, and we’re working on doing that.
3. Have any teams in the UK been approached?
I have had initial conversations with two Elite League teams. Their reception to us was positive, but this plan is in its early stages. The reason more teams have not yet been approached is that we are preparing a full bid and will be approaching the rest of the Elite League and possibly the EPL in due course.
4. What backing is in place for the bid?
We have significant financial backing in place, from several areas, including several large European financial institutions as well as companies in the arena of sports marketing and media partners, including, as we mention on the Twitter account, a plan for FASTHockey to be involved in covering games.
5. Looking at the mission statement, it seems that the UKHL is built very much on the NHL template, with strong central management acting for the league in most cases when it comes to media coverage, central media contracts and other off-ice organisational matters, rather than teams acting for themselves as currently in the EIHL-is this a fair assessment?
Definitely. The NHL system is proven to work as it’s the biggest league in the world. Our plan is to have a league that will be run to the benefit of all teams in the UKHL-with revenue sharing schemes ensuring that a “level playing field” is more likely. What we’re looking at here eventually is a league that will be a smaller-scale version of the NHL model in organisation.
6. There is talk of NHL players and alumni being involved in this league-which seems a little ambitious at first glance…can you explain what this is?
During my work I’ve become friends with a number of NHL personnel, both players, former players and executives. We’re talking right now about getting them involved with the league and getting closer links between UK hockey and the NHL. I can’t reveal anything right now as there are some details yet to be finalised, but I can tell you that these are big names…when the press-releases start coming (and they will) they’ll make UK hockey fans go “wow”.
6. This sounds very impressive-but as I said in my blog post, it’s all extremely ambitious for a league that’s “coming in 2013”-when would the UKHL begin play?
Our plan is for the UKHL’s first season of play to be the 2014/15 season.
7. Looking at the initial efforts of the Twitter feed/fb page, alarm bells will no doubt be ringing because it all seems a little rushed and amateur…plus there’s been no mention of this in the UK press…
(laughs) I agree. Looking at the Twitter feed we probably got overexcited and started putting things out a little early…looking back I probably wouldn’t have done it that way. But I can tell you that soon the press releases will start happening, the media releases will start happening and things will become much clearer.
8. Many will ask if there’s a timescale for the releases/PR-when can we expect to start hearing about this?
I’d say between 30-60 days from now (so, around two months). And those announcements will be substantial-we’re sure that they’ll be the kind of things that will make every fan in British hockey sit up and take notice. This is not just false promises-the UKHL is going to be something much bigger than the UK has seen before. We want all the EIHL teams on board with this and in the future we also want to bring teams/bring teams back to places like London and Manchester. That’s our aim. But if we get a few teams that don’t want to be involved then that’s their choice…this is going to happen and teams can either get on board or be left behind.
This was the last question in the interview…I thanked Mr. Brown for his time, and since the interview, Mr. Brown has also offered to speak to Jake Proctor in Belfast, who covers the Giants for several newspapers over there-he’s also said that I can pass on his information to other hockey bloggers in the UK, who he has said will he’ll be happy to talk to. He also said he’ll remain in contact with me, so hopefully there will be more conversations about the UKHL as time goes on-a timescale of around 30 days before the next conversation was mentioned.
My impressions on this? Certainly, the UKHL talks a good game. I came away from the interview still with a dose of cynicism (after all, how many promises have British hockey fans received over the years that never came to fruition)-but after speaking with Mr. Brown and hearing his outlining of the UKHL I’m considerably less dismissive than I was before-if this does happen as the UKHL group say it will then make no mistake-it will be the most exciting thing to ever hit British hockey.
There could be immensely exciting times ahead-my feeling is that right now, maybe I was wrong to dismiss the UKHL so quickly. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this, as I’m sure the rest of British hockey will. Only time will tell if this is a genuine revolution-in-the-making for UK hockey or simply more promises. But, unlike many of the other bids-at least now we have a deadline which we can judge by.
Let’s see what happens.