Can something called "Ice Soccer" really be a professional sport with franchised teams by 2015? Doug Taylor thinks so.
Doug Taylor has never worked in the sports business, and he's not a recreation director or even an ex-athlete. But the former human-resources specialist for three American automobile manufacturers is convinced that a trademarked hybrid of hockey and soccer he created on a whim - complete with a patented three-pound nylon "puck" called the "Boot'r" - can be a professional sport with franchised teams by 2015.
He has a long way to go.
So far, as a one-man operation struggling to develop Ice SoccerT, Taylor has limited his target markets to parks departments and college recreation programs. A handful of colleges and universities, privately operated ice rinks and even high schools have expressed interest in adopting the sport, which can be played in 30- or 60-minute intervals with nine or 10 players per team. But none had committed as of this writing.
Back in 1987, Taylor didn't intend for Ice Soccer to be played by anyone other than the 40 people he was entertaining at a winter party at his home on Brighton, Mich.'s Woodland Lake. When bad weather threatened to cancel planned activities, he decided to see what would happen if he filled a burlap bag with rags and kicked it around on the frozen lake. Taylor noted that it traveled across the ice smoothly and evenly - just like a giant hockey puck. Ice Soccer proved to be popular with his guests that day, but Taylor was too busy to take the game to the masses until recently.
"Everything hinged on getting an organized game set up and gauging player reaction," says Taylor, now retired from DaimlerChrysler. In February 2005, he convinced the intramurals director at Colgate University (his alma mater) to give Ice Soccer a try with 15 intramural soccer players. A post-game written questionnaire sought participants' opinions and asked them to rank the game's "fun factor" on a 1-to-10 scale. "If the kids didn't have fun, I wasn't going to spend any more time on it," Taylor says. "But one rated it an 8.5, one gave it a 9.5 and the rest gave it a 10. That was my wake-up call: If I was going to do this, I had better get serious about it."
So Taylor modified the rules (players cannot head the Boot'r or perform slide tackles), developed a list of required protective gear (high-traction boots, a helmet, elbow and knee pads, and a hip girdle with tailbone protector), ran more test games - most notably with the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy's varsity hockey team (pictured) - and began manufacturing the Boot'r (blue for adults, red for kids).
Ice Soccer officially launched at the Michigan Arena Managers Association conference in June 2005 - where Taylor positioned it as an opportunity for arena operators to fill ice time during down time. "There's no advanced physical conditioning required, there's no long learning curve and it doesn't require a lot of practice," he says. "It appeals to the non-athlete and the non-skater. People who normally wouldn't go into an arena because they don't know how to skate now have a reason to do so."