The NHL is scheduled to have two preseason games between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks on September 21 and September 23 in China. (Tickets now available here.)
This is the first time the NHL will be holding a game in China. Exposing the country to an elite level of hockey will be very beneficial not only for the NHL but for the hockey community in general. With a 1.3 billion population, two preseason games can convert hundreds of thousands of people into hockey fans.
Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner announced the preseason games in China this past March.
“We’re working very hard and [we’re] very focused with developing the Chinese market in part because we have been told by the Chinese government at very high levels that there is, leading to 2022, a priority to develop winter sports,” Commissioner Bettman said. “I was told by the minister of sport when I was there about a month ago that they would like to see 300 million more participants in winter sports, particularly and including hockey.
“We said we would work very closely with the government to try to help grow the game at all levels. They said they would help us grow the business of the game at all levels. So it looks like the making of a very good partnership.”
There are no real downsides of hosting these games in China. It’ll be interesting to see the turnout for the games and see how many fans will be created. However, it is odd to see the NHL actively want to have a presence in China and Asia, while at the same time refusing to let their players attend the 2018 Winter Olympics held in PyeongChang, South Korea.
There are many reasons as to why the NHL will not let its players attend; concern for players’ health and inadequate compensation to name a few, but they also claim there’s a low level of interest for the sport in PyeongChang. This seems contradictory: if they really are trying to grow the game in Asia, why refuse to send players to the Winter Olympics where ice hockey is one of the most viewed sports worldwide?