NHL talking up preseason China Games when it could be talking up the Olympics
League gets excited about exhibition matches in Beijing and Shanghai
The 2017-18 China Games, a two-game slate of NHL exhibition contests in Beijing and Shanghai, wrapped up on Saturday with the league talking up its international expansion as the steppingstone toward long-term partnership with overseas markets.
As NHL.com's Nicholas Cotsonika detailed following two Los Angeles Kings wins over the Vancouver Canucks, the NHL's first-ever China presence could ultimately lead to a new -- and substantial -- fan base.
China has enormous potential because of its population of 1.3 billion, its growing economy and the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The Chinese government wants 300 million to participate in winter sports leading up to those Olympics, and it asked the NHL to help grow hockey by lending its expertise in building hockey infrastructure and a national team, and by playing games in the country.
And yet, even in Cotsonika's points, you can find mention of the bigger and better global stage for the NHL if an international expansion is the real goal here: The Olympics.
Does China offer "enormous potential" as a site of NHL support? Sure it does. Even if North American hockeygoers weren't tuned into the China Games, the mere fact that NHL action was available overseas, not to mention in a brand new location, marks an admirable step in establishing worldwide attention. Comments from those in China who finally got a taste of the NHL indicate there is, in fact, a future for hockey there, too, even if, for now, it stays in the preseason.
But all of this comes at an ironic time -- a time in which theto the league's refusal to allow players to partake in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Now, breaking up a regular season for the PyeongChang Games is, of course, a very different strategy than playing a pair of exhibitions in China, and there is the added injury risk for Olympic participation. If the NHL is bent on using the China Games as fuel for talking up a real investment in international play, however, it should remember that it had an even more recognized, reliable and almost universally player-supported opportunity for global recognition with the Winter Games. And it shouldn't preach the global magnificence of its China Games without knowing it passed on the real Games in spite of pleas from around the league.
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