Is Ice Hockey the UK’s Forgotten Sport?

An opinion piece by Rob Steed, LAPS co-founder.

Last weekend, 9368 people packed into the Arena in Sheffield for a top-of-the-table ice hockey match against Guildford Flames. That’s an exceptional attendance, but to put it in context, that’s more visitors than most League 1 football clubs and Premiership rugby clubs had last weekend, and almost as many as Centre Court at Wimbledon.

Ice hockey is, by far, the most popular indoor spectator sport in the country. Beating basketball, darts, snooker and netball in spectator numbers.

Yet, unlike all of the above the game didn’t get a mention on the BBC website, or any national newspapers. There is a bit of TV coverage on a well-hidden satellite channel, but you’d be hard pressed to find out how your local team got on last weekend without visiting their social media.

I feel I should say at this point that I love ice hockey. I saw my first game in 1980-something in Montreal with Patrick Roy in goal (one of the best of all time), regularly watch live games in the UK and from North America when I can. My son plays at university. But there is a constant feeling that it’s a forgotten sport.

Of course there are other sports in this category. I’m talking about ice hockey because I’m such a fan.

For context, the very top players in the UK might earn £50k in the Elite League, but the average is half of that. Below that level no one is full-time just as a player.

That £50k salary is similar for someone on an entry-level “prospect” salary in the NHL, but you can add a zero to that figure if you join the 1st team squad. Something that two British players (Liam Kirk and Casey Trail) are currently trying to achieve.

In 2021 and 2022 the GB national team played in the World Group of the World Championships alongside the US, Canada, Sweden and Russia. These players on below-average UK salaries competed alongside players earning in excess of $10m per year.

Even sports with similar (or worse) salaries can give successful athletes a “name” and a story. Most of will know the names the athletes who won the Olympic curling and the Olympic field hockey.

Why is this relevant to LAPS?

Being an elite ice hockey player brings the same challenges and benefits as lots of other sports. We know that to reach this level you need dedication, hard-work, training, etc. We know that these athletes have those same positive traits when they retire from playing that the businesses we work with are looking for.
But, does the fact that ice hockey (and these other less visible sports) is so under the radar of the general population mean these athletes are less desirable? Possibly.

When we talk to businesses about recruiting former sports professionals we do focus on these traits I’ve mentioned above, but of course these conversations extend to talk about the sports career. Even if the athlete isn’t a household name, there is usually a story a to tell – for example, although he doesn’t mention it much my co-founder, Robbie Simpson, once scored at Anfield, taking the ball away from Stephen Gerrard and shooting past Jamie Carragher. There’s enough public interest there to have something to talk about. I’m not convinced that when we tell people that Liam Kirk scored past Viktor Fasth we’ll get the same enthusiasm – although on a purely sporting-achievement level it was much harder to achieve.

LAPS can’t change the profile of a sport, but we do make sure we highlight the achievements and skills of our members, whichever sport they come from.

We’ve helped ice hockey players into great new roles (check out the video interviews on the app to meet some of them), and amazing athletes from other less visible sports find brilliant new careers.

What can you do if you’re an athlete from one of these sports looking for your new career?

Most importantly, you shouldn’t assume that the person reading your CV isn’t a fan of your sport. You should proudly highlight your career achievements and recognise how many skills you’ve gained in your sports career. Whatever the sport.

Secondly, you should take advantage of your network within your sport.

Fans of less popular sports are often really big advocates of those sports, and the athletes who compete in them. Try to find employers whose enthusiasm for your sport mirrors my enthusiasm for ice hockey. Or let us find them for you.

Finally, shout about what you do. It’s easy for all sports to feel like the less important little brother/sister of football. But exactly the same determination and other character attributes apply.

NB: Liam Kirk spoke on a webinar about going abroad to further your sports career that you can watch in the member admin site.