NHL Trip Abroad Misguided

A few weeks ago the NHL dropped the puck on its new season, which many of you may have missed. Even those who watch hockey might not know opening weekend took place in Helsinki and Stockholm. Another misguided, failed business move by the league, though I can’t say what they failed at since its not clear what the goal was.

For the NFL, MLB, and NBA, international makes sense since these sports are near a saturation point in many domestic markets and need to establish themselves outside the country to develop new revenue streams. Further, most of the world is not as familiar with baseball and football – though baseball has come a long way recently and is big in the Pacific Rim, so the mission of those leagues is part educational, part evangelist, all to drive future business, similar to what the NBA did starting with the Dream Team.

On the other hand, hockey is arguably more popular in some Northern and Eastern European countries than it is domestically. Not to mention the NHL is far from a saturation point in the US, and still has growth opportunities in its home base of Canada. By taking opening weekend out of the country, it became out of mind, out of sight on the sports scene. The games started at noon, a losing proposition during the week or on the weekend against college football. They were buried on Versus, so no casual fan was likely to stumble upon it. And most importantly, the league did next to nothing to market the games, neither hear nor in Sweden, according to reports from the game. If the NHL plans to have the games, at least stand behind the decision and try to make it successful.

Here’s my confusion. No marketing push. No chance that a team will move to Sweden, so cross off market testing. No need to establish the sport there, as its already popular. Maybe I’ll buy extending the NHL brand, but Sweden has produced numerous NHL players, so fans are likely familiar with the league – and Sweden does play in the Olympics, often finishing better than the US.  Attendance was disappointing, and the league garnered no additional media deals or sponsorships (to my knowledge), so not much on the revenue angle.

All this said, what exactly were they trying to accomplish? While they were trying to accomplish this, did they notice they missed another opportunity to gain some notice with casual fans in local team markets by pushing Opening Weekend, or by having a big game on Versus (think Crosby or Ovechkin) to start the season. Instead, local television in Florida decided not to air one of the games in Helsinki. Explain how that helps a struggling franchise.

Hockey may never compete with the other leagues, but with continued in fighting and poor business decisions, its going to move in reverse as smaller sports surpass it.

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