NHL Making Itself Truly A National League

With the KHL’s growth into China, it is giving itself a leg up on the NHL in growth. While the NHL has remained within Canada and the USA, the KHL has been trying to grow at a rapid pace all over Eastern Europe and Asia. I am not arguing that the NHL should try to capitalize the Mexican and Caribbean market, cause frankly, the only news you hear about Caribbean hockey is this. What I am arguing though, is that the KHL has positioned itself in growth markets and the NHL hasn’t responded. I know that the KHL isn’t in the greatest position financially, but turbulence was expected.

China is trying to develop it’s presence in hockey in preparation for the 2022 Olympic Games. The Government is placing a lot of resources on development of sports that haven’t been well developed in China. In order to do so, the Chinese government has been working with the KHL to get a team located in China. Mission complete, the HC Red Star Kunlun will be joining the KHL for the 2016-2017 KHL season. There are further opportunities for growth in Asia with markets such as South Korea, Mongolia, and even INDIA available.

Meanwhile, the NHL is unable to continue to compete with the growth of the KHL and is losing out on possible revenue streams. A valid argument includes the fact that the NHL is an established league that doesn’t necessarily have to grow while the KHL is still a league that technically is still in it’s infancy and it’s owners still treat the league as the “Wild West“. However, the NHL is still growing with expansion speculation in Las Vegas, Quebec City, and Kansas City. Yet, the growth is not the growth that the NHL needs. The NHL markets itself as the greatest league in the world, yet it is unable to grow past two countries. It has attempted to play games in Europe a few times, and results have been well, but there isn’t the appetite for the sport isn’t there. Hockey remains a niche sport, and their games were in areas where hockey is already being played full season (Germany, Finland, Sweden).

Critics will argue that the NHL expanding to unserved markets will lead to a NFL Europe like disaster. However, there were many opportunities to grow the NHL brand without having capital investment like NFL Europe. Training camps, development camps, and community outreach programs allow for NHL organizations to develop hockey in developing countries, or find unknown prospects. However, their lack of development has left the NHL in a stagnant position. Without continued growth, maturity of the product peaks, and eventually, the decline begins.

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One thought on “NHL Making Itself Truly A National League

  1. Fully agree with your article Alson. But the NHL has other priorities first. They will expand to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams in North America before they will consider setting up a European branch of the NHL. The 2nd problem is the size of arenas in Europe. Most are very small, nowhere near the 18,500 size that are in North America. Finally there is the main problem that has existed since Canada-USSR, 44 years ago, expanding the quality of hockey beyond the traditional “big 7” teams. Only Switzerland and Denmark have shown any improvement in quality of play. The World Cup should be a tournament of the “big 12” or “big 16” instead of just 7 competitive countries. I have written several articles about this problem on this blog and on other blogs. Until the problem of quality is solved first, any expansion to new foreign markets is not going to work. There are about a dozen countries stuck at the “B level” of play for the past 4 decades. Getting these countries up to the level of the “big 7” should be the number one problem to be solved in international hockey.

    As for expansion into China, Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr at a recent press conference mentioned that Boston and Los Angeles were sponsoring clinics for Chinese players. But trying to raise the standard of play in 37th ranked China by occasional clinics is not going to help much. That’s a long term project. Getting the “B level” countries up to standard is going to help right now. But Bettman and Fehr failed to mention any plan to develop hockey in these countries. Until anyone comes up with a concrete plan to do this, all the points you made in your article are going to remain.

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