As the New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers prepare to open their seasons in Sweden on Oct. 6, the emphasis on the NHL Global Series by the league can begin to be seen.
The start of the regular season in Europe comes after a number of preseason games in China, as the NHL aims to grow its audience abroad.
“In order for us to really begin to grow the game internationally, we need to have regular presence with events,” commissioner Gary Bettman told NHL.com.
Hockey at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea suffered heavily from low ratings, likely due to the absence of NHL players in the Games. While there has been no definite decision made regarding the 2022 Beijing Olympics, Bettman still may not change his stance on forbidding NHL players participate in the tournament.
Bettman does not believe that shutting down the league for two weeks to showcase the best hockey talent is productive for marketing, although fans do not seem to be tuning into games as much during the Olympics as they do throughout the rest of the year.
If Bettman’s ultimate goal is to grow the game, there is no better place to do it than on the world’s biggest stage with everyone watching. Olympic hockey in markets like China may give prospective fans the exposure to the game that it needs in order to expand as a whole.
China is clearly a market that the league is interested in appealing to, as it has started having games in the country each season. Last season, the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings faced off in the first-ever NHL game played in China. In the 2018 preseason, the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames continued this tradition in hopes of growing the Chinese hockey market.
According to NHL Executive Vice President and Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer, this strategy appears to be working, as he said that the crowds for the Bruins’ and Flames’ press conferences were much greater than the crowd last year.
While the NHL is making strides to grow their markets on an international level, the league will likely still not allow its players to attend the Olympics when China hosts in 2022, making its mission unclear, especially to a country that it seems to be putting a majority of its focus on.
As the Devils and Oilers battle jetlag in Sweden to open their season, the NHL will continue to praise itself for increasing recognition globally, all while snubbing the biggest international event in the world.
Brittany Tomore can be reached at Brittany.firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BrittTomore.