NHL Using Preseason Games, Gretzky Visit To Deepen China Roots
Recent moves by the NHL show the league is "determined to play catch-up" in China "decades after the NBA began building a following" in the country, according to Mike Ives of the N.Y. TIMES. The Bruins and Flames concluded the '18 ORG NHL China Games with a game today in Beijing, and Wayne Gretzky this weekend was in Shenzhen, the location of the first Bruins-Flames game on the trip, to "open a youth hockey school." NHL Exec VP/Media & Int'l Strategy David Proper said that if hockey "grows in China over the next decade 'to a point where it’s not NBA level but something significant, well then we may reassess not just growing the sport but how to build our business.'" Analysts said that the league’s China development strategy is "loaded with opportunities to attract new fans and talent but also deep uncertainties about what sort of growth is possible." Ives notes the NHL has broadcasting and streaming deals with Chinese companies CCTV and Tencent, respectively, though league officials "declined to provide viewership figures or specific revenue targets." In a "sign of how much the NHL trails the NBA in China," it only has "about 290,000 followers on Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese social media platform," compared to the more than 37 million for the NBA (N.Y. TIMES, 9/19).
OVERSEAS SUCCESS: The GLOBE & MAIL's Nathan Vanderklippe writes Gretzky in China was a "moment straight out of an advertiser’s pitchbook: The Great One walking near the Great Wall, as hockey tries to make inroads in the world’s most populous country" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/19). THE ATHLETIC's Eric Duhatschek writes under the header, "Despite Logistical Hurdles, China Games Experience Largely Beneficial For Teams That Make The Trip" (9/19). THE ATHLETIC's Fluto Shinzawa goes with, "In China, The NHL Sees A Market For Growth -- And A Pipeline For Players."The short-term odds of a Chinese-born player "advancing to the NHL through his country’s development model are not high." The infrastructure, from "rinks to hockey stores to full-fledged minor and junior programs, is in its infancy." But if there is "anything the Chinese like to do, it’s build things" (THEATHLETIC.com, 9/19).
TRYING TO REACH THE YOUTH: The Kings, in conjunction with Beijing-based ORG Packaging and the NHL, will launch the Beijing Jr. Kings youth hockey program, the first youth development program for any NHL team in China. The program, which will be based in the new Beijing A.Z. Ice Sports Club and coached by former NHLer Todd Elik, will be geared for players 8-10 years old and is expecting to have two or three teams. The Kings, who last year played in the first preseason NHL games played in China, will support the new team by sending current and alumni team players to China each year for development camps, and will also take part in coaches training programs, player exchange programs and international tournament development opportunities. AEG Global Partnerships brokered the agreement with ORG Packaging (Ian Thomas, Staff Writer).