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Volume 26 No. 204
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NHL Putting Focus On Growing Hockey's Popularity In China

Alex Ovechkin hosted a series of youth clinics and autograph sessions in China over the summer
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Alex Ovechkin hosted a series of youth clinics and autograph sessions in China over the summer
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Alex Ovechkin hosted a series of youth clinics and autograph sessions in China over the summer
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Growing hockey's popularity in China has "understandably become a core focus of the NHL's overseas strategy," as the country is now the sport's "most intriguing market," according to Alex Prewitt of SI.com. The NHL earlier this year "quietly made a pair of small but significant moves to grow its presence" in China. The league hired veteran Chinese motorsports exec Sandy Ma Yun as Dir of Int'l Strategy, making him the league's "only full-time employee based in Asia." The NHL also opened a "new satellite office space at a Beijing business park." On the ground, progress has been "gradual but encouraging." A pair of exhibition games between the Flames and Bruins last season, held in Beijing and Shenzhen, "drew 28 million viewers on the state-run CCTV" and ticket sales "increased 50% from those at the inaugural NHL China Games" in '17. Over the past year, the league's account on the "ubiquitous social media network Weibo has also gone from fewer than 200,000 followers to more than 1 million." Last month, the Stars "partnered with the Beijing Shougang Hockey Club to send staffers abroad for pre-Olympics coaching sessions." They also became the fifth NHL team to start a Weibo account. The NHL is "contractually obligated to hold exhibitions in China in four of the next five years" and a regular season game "doesn't appear far down the road." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said, "I can't say it's on the drawing table yet. But obviously the progression of what we want to accomplish there, yes" (SI.com, 9/30).