It’s not expansion, it’s marketing

01Oct07

Listening to XM Home Ice this weekend, I got a good dose of several of the hosts freaking out about NHL expansion to Europe, as if this jaunt to the UK was about getting teams skating around the Thames within the next three years.

Ok, until we get Star Trek-esque transporters moving us from place to place (or at least planes get much, much faster), European expansion is logistically impossible. Some people also complained about how the NHL should be catering to markets that yearn for hockey rather than exploring the UK.

Well, here’s the thing. The UK’s really, really close to mainland Europe. And in a lot of places in mainland Europe, hockey is king. So yeah, perhaps this doesn’t satisfy people the way putting a team in Hamilton, Ontario might, but this is all about globalization and market expansion. Think of it this way. The NHL brand is pretty strong wherever hockey is strong — Sweden, Czech Republic, Russia, etc. These places are untapped sources of revenue stemming from merchandise to Internet traffic to TV broadcasts.

The packed O2 Arena was an example of Europe’s embrace of NHL hockey; from all reports, you had jerseys of representing all sorts of different club teams from European nations, as well as global fans of the NHL. Sure, it might not have made to much of a dent in the UK sports landscape, but it was a convenient, media-friendly location for the NHL to try and drive its European interests (re: branding and cash-grabbing).

The big picture here is that there is ample room for growth when it comes to European revenues and it doesn’t have to require expansion teams. Exposure and brand-strengthening can lead to further interest in hockey hotbeds, and that means bigger international bucks for the league. Frankly, I’m surprised that the PA puts up any resistance to this; if the NHL can drive greater revenue from international markets, then it’s more money to be shared with the PA and a higher salary cap. Isn’t that something the PA wants?

From all reports, the people who attended this weekend’s Ducks/Kings games had a great time and were just appreciative to see NHL hockey as opposed to, say, the Swiss Elite league. If you’re a European hockey fan who gets further exposed to the NHL product, there’s a chance that you might catch international game broadcasts and go to NHL.com to buy merchandise. It’s that simple.

If there’s no PA opposition, I could this growing in two ways:

1) An annual Premiere Series that rotates around Europe. If next year’s reports of Prague are true, then I could see the third year being Stockholm, then rotating back to the UK. That way, you hit the different geographies of Europe to cater to the different fans. Think a Vancouver (Sedins)/Ottawa (Alfredsson) game in Stockholm wouldn’t make the Swedish fans go nuts?

2) An annual exhibition between the Stanley Cup champion and a European Champions League winner. This would probably have a harder time going through PA approval because it’s very difficult to plan and you put the team at risk to injury. However, it would be good publicity for the league in Europe and the potential for additional revenue and growth are certainly there.

So for all you fans worried about Munich and Prague getting NHL teams before Hamilton, relax — the logistics will make it impossible until air travel technology gets better (I recall reading about a development of a new type of aircraft that skims the atmosphere rather than flying at traditional heights, and that experimental craft was supposed to cut flight times down by a signifcant factor, but I can’t remember details. Any science nerds reading this blog?). However, for those fans and pundits that didn’t understand the need to go to Europe, folks, it’s all about untapped markets and revenue, and that’s something both the league and the PA want.

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2 Responses to “It’s not expansion, it’s marketing”

  1. 1 OddyOh

    If it means giving up on failed US markets, I’m all for it!

  2. 2 SoCal Shark

    European expansion can happen in the next ten to fifteen years. Mike laid out the first seven to nine years with a rotating premier series, which should be held in the larger markets. During this time, “Relocate” the “failed” US teams (i.e. Florida, Phoenix, Nashville, Atlanta and the two 2010 expansion teams (KC / Vegas) to viable markets in Canada (Winnipeg, Hamilton and/or Quebec) and US (Hartford and Pacific Northwest (Seattle/Portland)). The teams that did not land a North American market should be bought out by the NHL and be the first European franchises. 7 to 9 teams would be necessary to start a European conference/division and the cities would be the ones where a successful premier series occurred (Copenhagen, London, Stockholm, Prague, Helsinki, Munich, Oslo, Bern and/or Berlin).


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