Comment: Ice hockey left in limbo as fans have to wait on rinkside return

Any hopes Scotland’s top flight ice hockey clubs had of welcoming fans back rinkside remain on hold

Tuesday, 11th January 2022, 7:09 pm

While the First Minister scrapped the 500-limit on outdoor events - rather helpfully just in time for Scotland’s top football teams to return from their winter break, and rugby’s Six Nations championships commencing - much further down the chain, minority indoor sports were left dangling.

They must continue to play in front of a maximum of just 200 fans until “at least” January 24.

That same arbitrary number will also put Scotland’s major theatres and live venues on hold as well, and more gigs and shows will be hit.

Fife Ice Arena had just 200 fans at Saturday's game between Fife Flyers and Belfast Giants (Pic: Derek Young)

And the “at least” part of the update leaves every organisation struggling to plan ahead with any degree of certainty or confidence.

The impact of today’s announcement can be measures in hard cash – and lost revenue.

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Fife Flyers now face playing their next three games in front of restricted crowds - league matches against Nottingham Panthers (January 15), and Guildford Flames on the 22nd - plus their big Challenge Cup quarter-final tie against Sheffield Steelers, midweek on the 19th.

Empty seats all round at Fife Ice Arena due to Scottish Government restrictions (Pic: Derek Young)

Glasgow Clan’s return from a prolonged December absence will see them face four games in a near empty Braehead arena - they host Manchester Storm on the 11th and 22nd, Cardiff Devils on the 12th, and Nottingham on the 14th.

And Dundee Stars now have to weigh up the lost revenue from five games scheduled between now and the next review.

So, between the three clubs, a total 12 games will now be staged in front of restricted numbers.

The option of postponing fixtures is fast receding a the Elite League starts to run out of time to complete its schedule as planned.

But how professional sports teams – without the benefit of multi million £ TV deals and mega sponsors pouring in cash – are meant to survive under such conditions is a growing concern.

There are players to be paid, backroom staff to be paid, rink rental to be covered, and a host of on-going operating costs to be met.

Now, endless hours will now have to be poured into working out how to compensate season ticket holders whose pre-season commitment is a financial bedrock for every single Scottish club.

“Until at least January 24” offers no clarity into what will happen next, and when your income streams have been slashed to the bone, that’s a hell of a long time to be left dangling.

There was middle ground which could have offered immediate respite to indoor venues and clubs - a switch from a number plucked out of thin air to operating on a defined percentage of a venue’s capacity.

I was at Dundee Ice Rink last week, and Fife Ice Arena on Saturday.

Both could easily have accommodated at least three times as many fans and still adhered to social distancing, using all available entrances to keep people safe.

Instead, entire sections were left empty, and every seat left upturned and unused was lost revenue.

Protecting people’s health is crucial, but so too is ensuring our clubs and venues get through this hellish time in a viable shape.

Today’s update missed an opportunity to do just that.

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