After a couple of relatively quiet winter conferences, something more approaching �normal service� seems to have been resumed at Bournemouth last weekend. While the official press release gave the impression of a harmonious meeting with just a few loose ends to be tied up, the reality seemed to be different. These �top secret� issues are of course all over the internet.
One of the key trouble points seems to revolve around the conversion rate applied to Premier to Elite average conversions. This has been set at 50% since the current Elite/Premier structure was introduced back in 1997. It�s worth remembering that the comparative standards between the leagues were far different than in the current day. The 1997 Elite League was formed with the very best of the riders from the combined 1996 Premier League, what was �left over� filled up the spots in the Premier League. Almost without exception the riders in the Elite League were better than ALL of those in the Premier League. Nowadays the Elite League is much less �Elite� than it once was, most of the best riders in the world are missing and if you excluded the top 20 Elite riders from the league then the difference in quality between the leagues would be negligible. It�s therefore sensible to re-calculate a fair conversion figure and around 70% seems reasonable.
If the widespread rumours are to be believed, a conversion rate around this mark was proposed and at least one promotion quit the conference and went home. This reminds us why conferences used to be held abroad - it�s far harder to go home �in a huff� if you�re stuck in Lanzarote rather than Bournemouth. The disenchanted clubs will no doubt be brought back into the pack before the season starts - unless the differences are on a matter of far greater importance than what has been rumoured. There is also talk of a new club joining the league to maintain numbers should it become necessary. Such a club would presumably be centrally funded or �propped up� by a wealthy individual with a vested interest in keeping Sky television interested.
The big shock news from the conference was the withdrawal of the Stoke Potters from 2011 Premier League, they will drop to the National League. This is a worrying development as the Potters have been members of the Premier ever since it was established in 1997. Other than a troubled period between 1993 and 1996, the Potters have always been one of the mainstays of second tier racing and the crowds they have attracted are not the worst in the league. If they are struggling then it�s fair to say that others must be too. Hopefully their drop into the lowest tier will be temporary and they will re-emerge stronger after taking this time to regroup.
The loss of Stoke from the Premier League is balanced out by the introduction of Leicester Lions. It�s been nearly 30 years since the Lions last roared, so their application and acceptance into Premier League racing is perhaps slightly surprising. Let us hope that the ambition of this project is rewarded by reasonable crowds. It�s a difficult time to launch any business and I do wonder if a �soft launch� into the National League may have been wise. Time will tell.
Whilst this new club have moved straight into the middle-tier, an established club at Plymouth has been denied a place in that league. The reasons for this are unclear, particularly as it seems to have been a secret ballot that determined their fate. It�s rumoured that inadequate facilities and location both played a part in the decision, but it may be a case of a face simply not fitting. It�s difficult to see where the club goes from this point, the fans seem to be hungry for a more varied diet and the danger is that this stagnation will lead to reduced crowds and eventual closure. It�s hard to see any real logic in this decision.
We have also seen Ipswich and Birmingham swap places, exposing the recent relegation/promotion play-offs as the farce they are.
The Premier League as a whole will be a slightly different affair next year. The early season Premier Trophy competition has been ditched in favour of an increased league programme. With 14 teams in the league it was never going to be easy to achieve this - too few teams to meet each other once and too many to meet twice. The novel solution the promoters have come up with is an acceptable compromise. The league will split in two for the latter part of the season and teams will face half of the other teams once more. Sheffield advocated this approach in the pre-conference build up and the concern was around how this would be implemented, would it be a North/South split or a Top/Bottom split. The surprising answer was neither! Instead teams will be split into two sections based on league positions at a cut-off date, the exact formula is still to be published but it seems likely that group 1 will consist of the teams in 1st, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 12th and 13th in the table at that point. This is a clever approach as it ensures that each team will face a similarly balanced strength of opposition and the actual cut-off date is largely irrelevant as long as teams have ridden enough meetings to establish form. I personally would be happy to see the title decided on that basis alone, though play-offs seems to be on the agenda. The only possible danger I see with the split is the possibility of a geographical anomaly occurring - for example one group being populated with all the Northern clubs except one. In such a circumstance the isolated Northern club may be aggrieved by the increased travel they alone face, but as long as the rules are clear at the start of the season then such a scenario would need to be accepted.
"That is why when the Leicester Lions open there door for the first meeting. Every person who is a fan of Speedway should attend the meeting even if they do not support them. We need to make this work so now is the time to pull together and support Speedway even if you don't support the team. DO IT FOR SPEEDWAY!"
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