International Week - INVADE EUROPE!!!

So this week I have built up from small steps, such as acclimating foreign players to the NHL, up through Barnstorming teams through Europe and playing regular season games there. Now comes what, in my opinion, the NHL's ultimate goal should be. They should eventually attempt to locate franchises in Europe.

Why expand into Europe? Countries like Sweden, the Czech republic, Finland and Germany are hockey mad nations, that also happen to have residents with a decent amount of disposable income. While some teams in the Sunbelt (and let's be honest other places) toil in economic uncertainty there's a whole slew of Europeans who would love to watch and get excited about hockey, and in particular the NHL. Europe embraces sports "(I mean the World (American) Football league had a lot of success in Germany), and spends a lot of money on their pro teams. I have no doubt the fans would flock to teams in droves.

The NHL sorely miscalculated in it's attempts to expand into southern markets. a non-traditional hockey market is going to take a lot of time to develop. The reason there are expansion fees to get in, is to help the league make the effort into developing these markets. Ice rinks need to be built in the area, and ticket prices need to be lower than normal until you build a fan base. In areas like Minnesota building a fan base is easy, in areas like Atlanta it's much much more costly. This isn't a knock on the southern teams at all, corporate sponsors need to be wines, dined and schmoozed as well. Betteman and Co. failed to realize this and didn't put the money or time into developing these markets (which is why they are struggling right now). Expanding/relocating into hockey mad nations will be a lot more like expanding/relocating into Minnesota, where the effort required won't be nearly as much.

No offense to Hamilton and KC, but they just don't seem as good for the long term interests in the NHL. I feel that the influence the NHL has on Hamilton is already saturated. I doubt you are going to pull any "new fans" in Canada. Kansas city has about the same population as Stockholm Sweden, but not nearly the hockey enthusiasm.

Critics (and probably the players association) will bring up the travel required. In 1958 there were 2 west coast baseball teams (Giants, Dodgers) who had to travel to the East coast for almost all of their games. Due to better/faster planes (and chartered flights), with some scheduling adjustment players won't be any worse off than those baseball teams (that played 78 road games a season).

The plan, award those 2 expansion franchises the NHL is going to have, the ones slated for KC and Hamilton, to Europe (Stockholm, and Helsinki). Also relocate 2 franchises (not going to speculate on which franchises, this is a long term plan and things could change) to Europe (Berlin or Munich and Prague). Maybe a 5th and 6th team could be relocated as well(Copenhagen or Oslo) could be added to round out a division.

With the unbalanced schedule teams travel wouldn't be to bad. Road trips would be real road trips (5 games all in Europe). The league, and the game would grow internationally, and franchise value would start to increase. I'm not saying the plan is foolproof, it's not, but the NHL right now needs something that is a more reasonable investment in the future, and sets itself apart from other leagues. A truly international league would be one of a kind and could help catapult the NHL's popularity and revenue to heights it never dreamed.

7 comments:

  1. No offense, but I'm not convinced. There is no other comparable inter-continental league of that kind anywhere in the world, and the travel distance faced by the early West Coast baseball teams in the '50s was long, it wasn't crossing-the-Atlantic long.

    Now, what I might support is two separate NHL leagues, a North American branch and a European branch, both much smaller than the current 30 teams and the season ending in a true World Series between the best of each.

    But neither idea is going to happen.

    Instead, we'll have to suffer a 32 team league that includes Kansas City and Las Vegas, and even less scoring talent.

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  2. I was trying to find information on crossing the country in the 50's to crossing the Atlantic today. I couldn't find the issues in the 50's.

    Today a flight is as low as 7 hours across the Atlantic. I think the Dodgers and Giants used to use train travel (at least sometimes) which would easily surpass any of the modern flights in terms of time. I think technology has progressed enough that the travel from the USA to Europe is at least comparable to the travel of LA/SF to the East Coast.

    Vancouver to Florida travel times are around 10 hours right now. East Coast to Helsinki is about 13 hours, so it's really not THAT much different (coach), but you would think an NHL team would get a charter and cut the time down on that significantly.

    But a road trip that looked like:

    Monday: Fly across Atlantic
    Tues: Rest
    Weds: Play Stockholm Meatballs
    Thurs: Fly/Rest-Helsinki
    Fri: Play Helsinki Selanne's
    Sat: Play Helsinki
    Sun: Fly
    Monday: Play Berlin Schnitzel
    Tues: travel
    Weds: Play Prague Body Czechs
    Thurs: Play Prague BC's
    Fri: Travel
    Sat: Play Berlin Schnitzel
    Sun: Play Helsinki
    Mon: fly home

    2 week road trip, 8 games. Granted that's currently more taxing than anything any team is doing right now (Detroit plays 5 away games in 9 nights), but I certainly don't think it's any worse than what the old Dodgers and Giants had to do.

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  3. The Dodgers and Giants were playing baseball though. And no offense to baseball athletes, but there's a reason your average MLB team can play 12 out of 14 nights no problem while the only time you'll see a hockey double-header is a triple overtime in the playoffs. That trip, while doable, would be brutal, especially for West Coast teams. Meanwhile, they ought to be named the Helsinki Business Travelers considering how many 15 game road trips to America they'll have to make.

    There are also time zone issues. How many Ducks fans not named Earl Sleek are going to be making time for that 10AM Anaheim-Munich game? Or going the other way, a 1AM start time for a visit to St. Louis probably isn't going to draw a lot of Czechs to their TVs. The World Cup and Olympics can pull stuff like that because it's an international championship. An NHL regular season game doesn't have that kind of appeal.

    I agree that NHL expansion would be very cool and profitable. But until they pull the Concorde out of the storage closet and get ESPN to show more than 7 seconds of highlights for the hockey games you missed, I don't think it's really feasible. I think an NHL Europe with a world series against North America (maybe for the Stanley Cup?) is much more doable right now. It also makes those European road trips for interleague play more of a novelty. Then as travel technology grows and media coverage improves, integrate the leagues down the road.

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  4. Uhh, didn't the World Football League (NFL Europe/Europa) just shut down after what everybody is calling "a failed 16-year experiment?" Maybe not the best example.

    Something else that would de-rail the global league, but shouldn't be discounted is pretty simple: the value of the Euro vs. the American dollar. If the NHL is going to continue to allow the fluctuations of the Canadian dollar have such huge affects on the league, imagine the nightmare of introducing ANOTHER currency that will help skew the salary and revenue structure in the NHL!

    I don't see the BOG agreeing to franchises in Europe because they would never see that money. It would almost have to be seperate TV contracts, revenue streams, etc. No way do European ownership groups send some of that cash oversees and vice versa.

    Travel is no longer an excuse for a truly world league for any major sport. Hasn't been for years. It is just the first thing people jump to because it's easy to write about. Global economics, which are much more brain-straining, are the real culprit, IMO.

    I will not argue this. I have spoken. Just agree with me. That is all.

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  5. I'm not convinced either. While there are fans in Europe we need to worry about the fans in the States before we head out to Europe. I honestly don't think expansion is the answer.

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  6. The world football league was a complete failure... except in Germany. The point was about German sports enthusiasm, so I don't think it's that bad of an example.

    Yes baseball isn't nearly as tough on the body as soccer is, but the point was, more or less, that the travel isn't any worse than what they went through, and even traveling to Europe they would be keeping a pretty regular schedule. The trips would be long, but a 2-3 week trip isn't that bad at all.

    The schedule would obviously have to be set up differently than it is now. You mention the Ducks traveling over there, but the Ducks are in the western conference. In all likelihood teams like the Rangers would be heading over there, and games at 9pm over there would be 1 pm over here, which is doable. (not that there still aren't problems during the week)

    I agree that the biggest problems would be economic, but I think they could be overcome. With the EU most of those countries have pretty stable economies, which means revenues would be shared similar to the Canada-US market going on right now. (BTW this is why I didn't suggest putting a team in Russia. The economic and political uncertainty are too much to overcome).

    And yes we do need to worry about fans in the states, but fans are fans, no matter where they are. Like I said, I don't want to see the NHL jump in and get expansion franchises for 08-09 in europe. This is a long term goal, and I think it's something for 15 years down the road.

    The NHL SHOULD be looking that far ahead though, because the next step is European expansion.

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  7. I am beginning to see your side of this....good examples, Bettman could learn from your tricks, though I prefer limiting it to a summer league or exhibition games

    tdr

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