SBJ/October 1 - 7, 2007/This Weeks News

League expects $3M gate from Ducks-Kings in London, and will look to Europe for more

The NHL’s games last weekend in London were set to deliver $3 million in gate revenue and mark a renewal of the league’s international efforts, which had languished since before the 2004-05 lockout.

League officials hope the games are the first in an annual series of overseas events in Western Europe. The games, scheduled to be played Sept. 29 and 30 in London between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, were sold out and more than 34,600 were expected to attend.

Officials believe consistent international appearances will provide a unique league asset that sponsors can activate around in the same way as the “Ice Bowl,” an outdoor game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres to be played in Buffalo on Jan. 1.

The league sees the European market as its second-biggest growth opportunity behind new media initiatives. Its Web site already receives heavy international traffic from Europeans in Sweden and Finland who follow players from those countries now playing in the NHL.

“With the lockout behind us, we’re ready to relaunch an integrated international strategy,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “There’s a great opportunity to grow revenue by growing our business in Europe and capitalizing on our fan base internationally.”

The league last made an effort to expose its product overseas in the late 1990s when it opened its season with games in Tokyo. That international push continued with a series called the NHL Challenge in Europe, which featured three NHL teams playing exhibition games against Swedish and Finnish teams.

But the series ended in 2003 and the league did not bring its live product overseas again until last weekend.

Those games signified a strategic shift in the league’s efforts to broaden its exposure abroad. Rather than focus on Europe and Asia, it narrowed its focus to Western Europe, which is closer to the league’s core European fan base. The region’s economics also are similar enough to North America that the NHL can charge the same prices for games there as in the U.S.

Other opportunities may emerge in the future, as well. The league remains in talks with the International Ice Hockey Federation about the creation of the Victoria Cup, an international competition featuring NHL clubs and champions from European leagues. It also is considering international games in countries outside the United Kingdom.

“If we build those properties and those league assets out, we believe sponsorship and licensing will grow,” Daly said.

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