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.
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