England Hockey’s Stoop project has been nearly two years in the making.
And by the end of the final FIH Pro League double header clashes on Sunday, the hope is that this will be more than just a one-off on how the sport can be presented in the future.
Officials believe that The Stoop matches will garner “noise and attention”, both within hockey and other sports looking in at what could be achieved by the pitch technology.
“Our overall strategy was to grow the visibility of the sport,” Sally Munday, England Hockey’s chief executive, told The Hockey Paper.
“We want to grow the live spectator audience. We have grown massively over the last eight years and transformed from where we are. We had 120,000 spectators at the World Cup and if you’d asked us 10 years ago if that was possible, we would have laughed.”
Even before the World Cup success last summer, England Hockey were looking at other options, with the Lee Valley capacity set at 10,500, and if a pitch could be laid in another existing arena.
“We wanted to be able to put a pitch in, take it out and put it back in so we could co-exist with another sport,” added Munday. “We felt that rugby clubs would be the best step for us with the size.”
Thus, Munday put in a call to the Rugby Football Union who immediately cited Harlequins as a potential suitor. “They are really forward thinking and their values are the same as ours,” added Munday, having met her opposite number at Quins, David Ellis.
EH soon talked with Quins ground staff, technology boffins, as well as seeking advice from Tottenham Hotspur, who will be dovetailing with American Football matches at its new ground.
EH slimmed down to one possibility, initial trials taking place last September, with shock pad and artificial turf and how the grass underneath would react. In March, a pitch was laid at Bisham to seek feedback from the elite players
The Stoop is seen as a ‘full pitch trial’ with the technology in place. “Our view from the second phase of testing is that this pitch will be better than some of the permanent venues. We are going into it with our eyes wide open, that it won’t be perfect.”
Filling The Stoop (capacity nearly 15,000) will give EH an indication of the live audience appetite. Further, a future partnership with Quins could also be in the offing.
Harlequins are also redeveloping its stadium, with digitally-enabled technology. Munday is also enthused by the potential to turn rugby into a hockey-ready stadium – LED enabled branding and advertising – with limited manual work.
She said: “It gives us the opportunity to grow the game. From a world perspective, if it is successful, it will transform the game.”
With what’s at stake, work began at Quins last month, but the sense is that the turnaround could be days. “We want to be at a point where Harlequins play on the Saturday, we go in on the Monday and relay our pitch where we could play on a Thursday. That’s the aspiration long term.”
Commercially, this would also give stadium executives the chance to use the facility during the season.
All in, Munday admitted to match day nerves. She added: “The enormity of what we are trying to do is really exciting, slightly scary and we will learn lessons. But this is pretty innovative.”