Published on November 11, 2013 | by Hardeep Hullait

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A ‘unique marketing approach’ can boost UK ice-hockey

Former Slough Jets goalkeeper Gregg Rockman believes a unique marketing approach that targets Eastern European fans could significantly boost interest in UK ice-hockey.

Ice hockey keeper dives to his right to save a shot

Slough Jets keeper prevents the away side from scoring [Photo by: David G Steadman]

The talented shot-stopper has highlighted the popularity of the game in countries such as Slovakia, where the games attract huge interest.

He explained how a change of approach could encourage more UK followers to a sport that already draws huge audiences in eastern European countries.

Despite the popularity of ice hockey abroad, teams in the UK struggle to sell tickets weekly, and teams such as Slough have found themselves unable to sell out their 600-person capacity crowd, even against their biggest rivals.

Although ice hockey isn’t a national sport such as football, rugby or cricket in the UK, Rockman feels that a change of approach is needed.

“I think there’s an untapped resource with a lot of Eastern European fans,” he said.

“There’s a lot of ice hockey played in countries like the Czech Republic and there’s a lot of Eastern Europeans living in Slough and I think it would be a good way to attract new people to the sport.

“The guys do work really hard to try and market the team but it has always been tough to fill out the ice arena.”

The Slough stopper also believes that, if the national team are playing well, the sport will gain popularity around the country.

Team GB failed to qualify for the Winter Olympics and Rockman feels that events like this are halting the progress of small ice hockey teams around the country.

“I think it does help to have a good national team. I know the guys did really well recently by nearly qualifying for the Olympics and there was a good buzz around that.

“I know it’s shown on Sky Sports at the moment but back in the 1990s, when the national league was called the Heineken Championship on BBC and was backed by big sponsors, the crowds were massive. The first step definitely has to be for the national team to do well and earn coverage before the club teams can.”

In the European Ice Hockey Championships, Great Britain has failed to finish anywhere higher than 20th place since 2002.

The national team were a force to be reckoned with during the early 20th century at a time where the team was made up of talented Canadian-born players.

Great Britain won a bronze medal at the 1924 Winter Olympics in France and took gold in Germany in 1936.

Although Rockman signed a new deal with the Jets in time for the 2013/14 season, he was recently released by the club. His manager Slava Koulikov insisted that it was time for change at Slough following their poor start to the season which has left them 12 points adrift of league leaders Manchester Phoenix.

The Jets’ star player Frankie Bakrlik left the club for Manchester because of alleged higher wage demands but Rockman insists that it isn’t all doom and gloom as the sale of Bakrlik has boosted depth in Slough’s squad.

“I think we have recovered from the loss of Frankie but we’ve gone for more depth across the team this year and I think we’re better in a lot more positions.

“He was probably the highest paid player and we loaded up for him to score the goals, but this year we’re going to try to spread the goals across the team.”

The 34-year-old has also tried to express his belief that it is never too late to get into ice hockey and encourages young people across the country to get down to their local rink and give it a try.

“When you get people down here they usually stay as you rarely have a boring hockey game, unlike football where you can have bore draws.

“Just come down and watch it, it’s a really easy and friendly atmosphere. If you want to take up ice hockey I started late when I was 13-years-old, so it’s never too late, you just have to be confident when skating and get down to your local rink.”

 

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