Execs tout benefits of NHL’s Global Series
John McDonough isn’t shy about his interest in having the Chicago Blackhawks on the NHL’s shortlist of teams that receive an invitation to play in the Global Series. In fact, the team’s president and CEO would like the league office to have his franchise on speed dial whenever it’s in the planning phase for the annual overseas adventure.
“It’s a delicate balance,” McDonough said of the friendly lobbying efforts to compete internationally, “but if you were to ask [Deputy Commissioner] Bill Daly or [Commissioner] Gary Bettman, they would certainly say there’s no shortage of consistent reminders from the Blackhawks.”
Chicago had previously played in Europe during the 2009-10 season, and this year it was one of four clubs to participate in the third annual Global Series. The Blackhawks and the Flyers faced off in Prague to open the season, while the Lightning and the Sabres met in Stockholm earlier this month. The NHL recently announced its 2020-21 international slate, which will feature the Nashville Predators and the Boston Bruins starting their seasons in Prague, followed by the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Colorado Avalanche playing two regular-season games later in the fall in Helsinki.
When asked about countries he’d be interested in seeing the league explore for future games, McDonough mentioned Australia, Iceland and New Zealand. He said that playing overseas and representing not only the team, but the NHL, is an opportunity that he called an automatic “yes” when asked by the league. The Blackhawks’ 10-day excursion to Europe this fall, including an exhibition game in Germany, allowed the team’s nine new players to better assimilate with the rest of the club, he said.
The Tampa Bay Lightning saw a similar benefit from its trip to Sweden. “You can’t put a price on the camaraderie that comes out of a trip like this,” said Lightning CEO Steve Griggs.
But while spreading brand awareness internationally and being a good steward for the league and the sport are important, there’s still a business component to these trips, even if they don’t directly translate to a new partnership or transaction.
Griggs estimated that the Lightning flew 20 club sponsors and their senior-level partnerships executives overseas, including ones from AdventHealth, Heritage Insurance and Pepsi, among others. He said this trip was less about drumming up new business with overseas companies and more about engaging with existing sponsors, some of which have an international connection, like Sweden-based brand Absolut Vodka. The brand, led by CEO Anna Malmhake, was the centerpiece of a closed social event at Absolut’s Stockholm headquarters for all of the team’s top partners in the week leading up to the game. Griggs said that orchestrating a trip like this for key sponsors, including the sightseeing, social gatherings and games, is one that pulls together partners for a long period of time.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be able to provide to your partners, to your fans and to your hockey team, and doing it in a world-class manner really was our focus,” said Griggs.