BLOG: When is the NHL coming back to Britain?

Sport nowadays is big business and the minds that run these commodities are always looking at ways of growing their brand.

One of the more successful ways of achieving this has been to export games beyond their native shores and attract new fans to their events.

We’ve seen ideas like the much-maligned ’39th game’ by the English football Premier League, where all the teams would play a round of fixtures across the globe.

There was even a pitch in Scotland for Celtic to play Dundee in Philadelphia very recently which drew mixed reaction.

Going the other way, we have NBA basketball at the O2 Arena in London and we’ve seen NFL American football attracting high crowds at Wembley.

So when is the NHL going to start to think about exporting games outside North America and perhaps send one to Britain once again?

The venue is something we can consider later on, but can you imagine the prospect of New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens or teams like that turning out here in Blighty?

Back in 2007, the NHL opened its regular season in Europe for the first time, with the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings playing a two-game series at the O2. Each team won one game.

Boston Bruins came over in 2010 when they took on Belfast Giants in a challenge match and that was an event that caused great excitement.

But surely the prospect of another fully-fledged regular season game would whet the appetite for ice hockey fans all over Britain?

Would the logistics of hosting a Winter Classic be completely beyond the realms of possibility if you want to promote the sport in another country?

The idea of the now traditional New Year clash was to return the game to its origins when the sport was played outdoors and has been a rip-roaring success in terms of interest and commercially.

Having a Winter Classic with two Elite League teams perhaps wouldn’t capture the imagination in the same way, certainly not yet, but bringing together two huge franchises as a one-off would do wonders for the sport.

The NBA hosted a game in London this week between Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors and the game, held at the O2, was a sell-out.

Basketball has been held there annually since 2011 and the league have taken games to Mexico City and Japan in the past.

The NFL, the top American football organisation, have brought their sport to Britain and have steadily increased the number of games, which have been held at Wembley Stadium, from one to three now.

Next year two of the three matches will be at Wembley, with the other due to take place at Twickenham, the traditional home of rugby.

The first game in 2008 attracted over 81,000 fans and this season, the three matches each brought in crowds of nearly 84,000.

Each year it’s six different teams and the two teams competing change every time, so irrespective of who’s playing the fans are going in droves and enjoying the NFL occasions.

So how would a potential NHL game work if the powers-that-be were to export another game to these shores?

First of all, any of the arenas currently used by the Elite League clubs wouldn’t be sufficient enough. That’s assuming the fans embrace it like their American football counterparts of course.

The O2 would probably be the most favourable venue again, given it can hold 20,000 for concerts and basketball and has hosted other sports there.

Other than that, you’re going outdoors and while having a Winter Classic/Stadium Series event at somewhere like the 90,000 capacity Wembley Stadium is fanciful, there are adequate football and rugby stadia that could do the job.

You could look at places like White Hart Lane, home of Tottenham Hotspur, which hosts under 40,000 and see how well it would do.

For a first attempt, it’s achievable, not only because you’re looking at an NHL game in this country, but also for the curiosity of seeing ice hockey played outdoors.

More ambitious venues in terms of attendance could bring in places like Hampden Park in Glasgow, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium or the Etihad Stadium in Manchester.

Or what about St James’ Park in Newcastle as an out-there kind of suggestion?

Commercially it could be a winner and would help a sport so badly under-promoted in this country, as the exposure would be incredible across all media platforms.

Seeing two top NHL sides battling it out on British shores would surely bring in any ice hockey fan, never mind those who perhaps follow them from afar?

If it works in NBA and NFL, there’s certainly a case for it to be at least tried here again and see how it goes and, as the so-called American sports enjoy this new wave of popularity, it’s one to look at.

After all, who wouldn’t want to go and see Detroit Red Wings face Philadelphia Flyers in Newcastle?

5 Comments

  1. Its a great idea in principle but as a fan of the Chelmsford Chieftains in the lowly NIHL s1 I would not go to see this game if it clashed with my team playing. Don’t get me wrong I would love to watch the best in the world at my sport and have been to see the NHL and AHL in the states as well as watching EIHL and EPL here in the UK but my team ust always come first and I think that goes for a lot of folks .So unless this game is on an off day for hockey in the UK it might not get the required numbers to make it the spectacle that the NHL would want.

    • I agree with P K. Mcr Arena was a great venue when the Storm played there back in the day.
      Think in would be a great success done right. Whould love to see it happen.

      PS Come on the Philly Flyers 🏒🥅

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