The Hockey Insider: Nervous anxiety across hockey world as FIH Pro League’s critical season gets going

  • Launched last year as an ambitious FIH event that was to transform international hockey, the global Pro League has left the participating nations scrapping the barrel.

  • The most prominent casualty of the FIH Pro League’s launch was the once-elite Champions Trophy that got dropped from the roster.

  • India make their Pro League debut with a double header against The Netherlands in the first weekend of the men’s competition.

 The Hockey Insider: Nervous anxiety across hockey world as FIH Pro League’s critical season gets going

The finance guys across several leading hockey-playing nations are pensively doing the sums, seeking ways to cut costs and reduce the outgo of hard-earned money as the FIH Pro League gets into the swing for its critical make-or-break season.

Launched last year as an ambitious FIH event that was to transform international hockey, the global Pro League left the participating nations scrapping the barrel. Far from the windfall it was supposed to be, the huge costs were not easily digested in the absence of global title sponsorship amid the economic slowdown.

The dazzling hockey skills on the turf did cause excitement among the fans, but the trappings of success for the FIH Pro League were not visible beyond the field during the inaugural season. All this despite some buzz being created by the home-and-away format that evoked interest from sports buffs in participating countries.

Did it surprise the FIH bosses that the almost-assured model they had propounded fell way short of producing a financial bonanza! Was the commercial non-success a reflection that football-style experiments in hockey’s scheduling had not clicked instantly!

Marketed to the hockey fraternity as a sure-shot formula to get the cash registers ringing, the FIH Pro League was not merely stepping into the arena vacated by the tottering Hockey World League, but also reducing the space for multiple-nation tournaments.

The most prominent casualty of the FIH Pro League’s launch was the once-elite Champions Trophy that got dropped from the roster. Other international tournaments – especially those scheduled in the first half of the year – are also feeling the pinch as top teams are no longer going to be available. After all, hockey’s traditional tournament-focused schedule is no longer favoured by the mandarins at the Lausanne headquarters of the FIH.

The governing body, confronted with the financial woes afflicting the competing countries, agreed to re-tweak the home-and-away schedule so that one country hosts double headers over a weekend in the 2020 schedule. The away games will then come into the frame when both bilateral contests are switched to the other nation in 2021. The home-and-away matches would thus be spread over two years, but it will cut to half the staging and travel expenses for all nations. The accountants at the world body and the participating nations are all hoping this formula would make the FIH Pro League financially viable. That, however, may not be enough if all nations do not attract adequate sponsorship.

The Hockey Insider has observed nervous anxiety prevailing in international hockey circles over the FIH Pro League, which has turned the game on its head. Several key officials of the current FIH hierarchy were supporters of the plans to introduce the Pro League, despite the apparent disruption it would cause to the national competitions in several leading hockey nations. Bombastic figures of financial boon were cited to silence all questions, but the main proponents of this league within the FIH staff, including the Chief Executive Officer, had moved away from the world hockey body before it got launched. While the key staff moved away to greener pastures, the Pro League was left in the hands of people who had played little or no role in strategising it.

Such diverse are the territories where hockey is popular around the world that the FIH found it problematic to find a global title sponsor. Instead, local sponsorship from hockey’s supporting corporates now made better sense to the FIH’s marketing agents, but here too the dimensions were varied.

The absence of India, which had been a major revenue provider for international hockey for the past decade, also hampered the audience figures that could have attracted a major telecast partner. This year, there is a lot of excitement in FIH circles with India coming into the frame. India make their Pro League debut with a double header against The Netherlands in the first weekend of the men’s competition.

Will India’s entry help turn around the fortunes of the Pro League that had threatened to push major national federations toward insolvency? The question will only be answered after a couple of months, but the stakes for the FIH are extremely high. After all, the very continuation of the FIH Pro League could depend on balancing the accounts at the end of the second season.

The Hockey Insider has learnt that the disruption of domestic leagues in many countries continues to be a cause of heartburn among clubs that have traditionally paid the players’ salaries. Not just the club coaches, even those in charge of the national squads were frustrated when best squad was not always available throughout the season. A top-notch women’s team coach told The Hockey Insider about the embarrassing public debate that followed observations that all the top players were not available throughout the Pro League.

The trauma for many nations was the manner in which their domestic leagues were disrupted and rendered subservient as the premier scheduling slots were taken away by the FIH Pro League. The flow of profits to the national federations, and a spill-over to the domestic leagues could have reduced the clubs’ raging anger. But the financial bonanza is not visible, despite the lucrative projections that preceded the launch of the FIH Pro League.

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Updated Date: Jan 16, 2020 13:49:09 IST