NHL Making Inroads In China With Preseason Games In Beijing, Shanghai This Week
The Canucks and Kings will play a pair of preseason games in Beijing and Shanghai this week, the first time NHL games will be contested in China and something the league believes is "well worth the investment," according to Dan Robson of SPORTSNET.ca. Whether the games will have an "impact on developing the NHL brand in the Far East remains to seen." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the idea for the games first began "probably a year, to two years ago." Daly: "In prior years, our international strategy had probably intentionally omitted the Far East, in part because of a lack of hockey interest and infrastructure. ... We’ve evolved now to a point where I think that the game is in a really good place and we have an opportunity to invest in a more significant and impactful international strategy that includes investment at the grassroots level to build interest and participation in the sport, and that will be vital to our strategy in China" (SPORTSNET.ca, 9/16). In California, Clay Fowler noted with Beijing hosting the '22 Winter Games, China has "set in motion a massive movement to develop youth sports of the winter variety." Estimates are that China will have "more than 500 hockey rinks completed less than three years from now, meaning only Canada, Russia and the U.S. will have more" (SAN GABRIEL VALLEY TRIBUNE, 9/18). Canucks C Henrik Sedin said, "It's a big market. If we can get that market on our side and interested in our brand and sport, it's going to be huge for us" (CP, 9/18). Golden Knights D Jason Garrison: “If you can bring in more viewers and create worldwide interest in this sport and this league, there’s only good things to come from that” (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 9/18).
MAKING A COMMITMENT: In Vancouver, Ed Willes noted the NHL, NHLPA and IIHF are "prepared to play the long game in China" because they can "see the potential rewards." China-based streaming platform Tencent two years ago signed a five-year deal with the NBA for $700M. The NHL has a similar deal "worth a fraction of that." However, NHLPA Exec Dir Don Fehr said, "It's a start." Additionally, Game 1 of the Penguins-Predators Stanley Cup Final last June drew 22 million viewers in China, more than double what it drew in the U.S. and Canada combined. It is the "sheer size of the Chinese market along with the availability of capital that has created a gold-rush mentality in the game." Chinese investors have "poured billions into European soccer," and they are now "looking for similar opportunities with NHL teams." The Bruins have "struck up a sponsorship deal" with packaging company ORG, which is title sponsoring the two Kings-Canucks games this week, and Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis also is "interested in China" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 9/19). In L.A., Curtiz Zupke notes the Kings and Canucks will "conduct youth clinics and a hockey demonstration with kids at a Shanghai mall." A China-based NHL partner, Bloomage Int'l Culture & Sports Development Co., is also "helping to expose the sport." There also is a "mandate to build hockey rinks in China, with the goal of having 300 million people playing winter sports in the next six years" (L.A. TIMES, 9/20).