NHL Embarks On New Effort To Grow Globally, Focusing On Europe, China
The NHL will begin its "largest effort yet outside of North America" next month when it holds exhibition games in China, "part of a newly launched long-term plan to grow the game and league globally," according to Ian Thomas of the SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. It is not the league's first attempt. The NHL held a series of int'l games between '00 and '03, and another series between '07 and '11 but those efforts "were curtailed" by the '04-05 and '12-13 lockouts. The new effort, which will cost the league an estimated tens of millions of dollars, is "promising a long-term presence" through grassroots programs and assistance in building hockey infrastructure as well as games and potentially future World Cup of Hockey events, rather than the previous years' one-off games. The NHL is targeting 10 to 15 countries, focusing "primarily on those already strongly interested in the NHL and hockey," such as Sweden and Finland. The league is "tailoring its strategy to each country," as well as working with its media partners to better market the league. For the first time, the league held a European player media tour earlier this month. NHL Exec VP/Media & Int'l Strategy David Proper said that the league's enhanced grassroots effort "will be at the core of sustaining that interest." He said, "If you play the games and then you leave, it's like the circus coming to town and you don't build anything. We want to not only build relationships in each of these markets but maintain them." The league's "most ambitious effort" is in China, where, compared with countries such as Sweden or Finland, there is "nearly no infrastructure for hockey." Proper: "For us, it's been more of a reactionary strategy based on what we're asked to do and trying to make sure we are moving forward in the right way for the market." The Chinese government, to better prepare itself to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, is "not only investing in winter sports but also building out a hockey program to compete." That interest has provided the NHL with an "easy gateway into the country." Proper said that the league has had conversations with Chinese entities to "determine that path," whether it is helping to build rinks and grassroots programs or providing assistance to build China's national team. The league's Chinese broadcast partner, CCTV, reaches more than one billion viewers, and it signed a five-year deal with Tencent earlier this year to "distribute NHL content and games via the company's digital and mobile platforms." The NHL is planning to return to China to play preseason games next year, and will "also stage games in Europe" during the Novemeber Int'l Ice Hockey Federation int'l window. It is considering adding a second window of games in Europe later in the season (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 8/28 issue).