Friday, 07 Aug 2015 18:00 | By Jewels From The Crown, edited by Yang Pu
China is on the cusp of a hockey boom.
Already, there are plans to build over 400 more full-sized rinks in China by 2020. Some of these playing surfaces will accommodate the 1,700 children who currently participate in minor hockey in Beijing; five years ago, only 100 kids were involved.
State channel CCTV, which has broadcast live NHL games since 2013, doubled its ratings from 2013-14 to 2014-15. And while 400K viewers to 800K—in a land of 1.3 billion—isn't terribly impressive, that's still an intriguing number of fanatics and potential supporters tuning in at 7 AM or so. In comparison, about 30K catch the Los Angeles Kings locallyon any given night, while a national audience of 750K enjoyed the LA/San Jose Stadium Series tilt.
Li Longmou, CCTV's director of hockey programming, attributes the spike in CCTV's ratings to a single event: "The ratings for North America may not be going up. But in Asia, they're going up very quickly for the NHL. Even in China...after 2014's Winter Olympics, our ratings were way better than before." Reportedly, 120 million Chinese watched Canada-Sweden (as opposed to 15 million Canadians).
There will be even more eyes trained on the ice as Beijing has already successfully pocketed the rights to host the 2022 Winter Games. Most significantly, the Chinese government will be watching, and they possess both the capital and political will to stimulate interest and development in any sport.
A few NHL franchises have already staked their claim in the coming gold rush. The New York Islanders opened an office in Harbin over a decade ago, and they just drafted Andong Song, the first Chinese national to be selected in the NHL Draft. Recently, both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks have run youth hockey camps in Beijing and Shanghai. In addition, Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment has sold advertising on the boards at the Air Canada Centre to Chinese companies to the tune of $2.5 million last year, while "looking at about 10 times that much revenue in 10 years time."
That's just three teams ahead of the NHL, which doesn't appear to have a business plan for China yet.
Li thinks that the Kings can establish a privileged position in this burgeoning market. "Kings games do well in China. Because everybody knows [the city of] Los Angeles. And the Kings win. "I believe in the last two seasons, we played LA games the most."
Beyond grassroots, he suggests that Los Angeles can help shore up Chinese hockey infrastructure in advance of the 2022 Games. "Right now, it's building the system. Bridging the gap for 12-18 year olds. That's what the [Chinese] government wants to do.
"They need management. They need coaches. They need scouts. They need agents. Those coaches and management need to go to universities and schools to help them grow...these are just some of the things the Kings can do."
So whatever LA's prospective target: The 800K already getting up for NHL games? The 120 million who checked in on Canada-Sweden? The 300 million purported to have a "growing appetite" for winter sports? Or the 1.3 billion who make up the most populous country in the world?
Dave Hopkinson, MLSE's chief commercial officer, sums it up: "This is such an untapped market."
Taken from Jewels From The Crown