China to Host First Ever Pre-Season NHL Games in September
The National Hockey League (NHL) will make an official debut in China in September with two pre-season games between Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Thursday in Beijing.
The first exhibition game will be played on Sept. 21 at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai and second on Sept. 23 at the Huaxi LIVE Wukesong's Le Sports Center in Beijing.
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Mr. Bettman described this an historical moment for NHL, which was making a consistent efforts for almost a year to enter into the lucrative Chinese market.
"We look forward to our first games in China and to a variety of initiatives that will inspire generations of Chinese players and fans to enjoy our sport," Bettman said in a statement announcing the games, Bettman said.
Bettman and other officials assured that NHL's association with China will go beyond 2022 Winter Olympics that are slated to take place in Beijing. They promised that their long term arrangement would include focus on growing the grassroots hockey across the country and building a strong national hockey program.
Incidentally, NHL is in the middle of a huge controversy for not agreeing to send their players to 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in South Korea, but assuring player's participation for 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Critics claim that NHL's decision is marked with double standards and is driven by commercial interests.
NHL, however, cities the tight league schedule and injury concerns as major reason for their non participation in 2018 winter Olympics.
China offers huge growth opportunity to NHL
The fast growing Chinese sports market is making non-traditional games like NHL to vie for a sizable market share. China's massive television viewership and internet market can help NHL in raking billions of dollars through advertising revenues and lucrative sponsorship & merchandising deals.
However, NHL is not the only one that is trying to seize the Chinese opportunity. The other non traditional games like NFL and Rugby are also in contention to enter the lucrative Chinese market. These games are trying to take inspiration from amazing success that soccer and NBA have able to achieve in China over the years.