NHL Concludes Exhibition Play In China, Hopes To Continue Fostering Country's Hockey Culture
The NHL Kings on Saturday defeated the Canucks in a shootout at Cadillac Arena in Beijing to win both of the league's first preseason games in China, capping a push to "popularize the sport in China" ahead of the '22 Beijing Games, according to the AP. Organizers put attendance at "almost 13,000, including many drawn from the Chinese capital's expatriate population" (AP, 9/23). The GLOBE & MAIL's Nathan VanderKlippe noted there were "several yawning sections of empty seats" for Thursday's Kings-Canucks game in Shanghai. Hockey HOFer Phil Esposito, who has become a kind of unofficial ambassador for the game in China, said, "The NHL blew it. You have got to promote. This game tonight -- I looked in the papers. There wasn't a goddamn word about it. Not one word." Canucks President Trevor Linden said of promotion for the games, "It's not ideal." However, VanderKlippe noted the league has "agreed to a total of six preseason games over eight years," and the first two "wildly exceeded the draw" of the KHL. The KHL Chinese Kunlun Red Star "regularly played in Shanghai to audiences numbering in the hundreds." Thursday's game in "one of Shanghai's premier locations showcased the NHL to a crowd who hooted at big checks, roared at goals and even managed a passable audience wave." Although the two games are a "blip on the hockey calendar, they carry some weight as the league decides how much to spend on fostering a new market in the world's second-largest economy, and for how long to commit." Linden said, "This is the test of whether they move forward and continue to play. I think it's gone well from a logistics standpoint." Linden added he hopes "there's some opportunity here" in "building a bit of a hockey culture in China" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/22).