NHL Teasing Return of World Cup of Hockey

On Friday in Prague, the Chicago Blackhawks took on the Philadelphia Flyers in front of a sold-out crowd of 17,463. The game was a part of the NHL’s Global Series initiative. With that success, the NHL is starting to contemplate the return of the World Cup of Hockey.

Initially, there was supposed to be a World Cup of Hockey held in 2020 but back in January, those plans were slashed given the uncertainty of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). But with last month’s developments with both the NHL and the NHLPA declining to re-open the CBA, the World Cup of Hockey talks are back on the agenda.

World Cup of Hockey Explained

The World Cup of Hockey has officially been around since 1996 and is an international hockey tournament that has been played on three occasions, 1996, 2004, and 2016. Eight teams initially made up the tournament with previous winners being the United States (1996) and Canada (2006). In 2016 the NHL elected to go to a eight-team format with Canada coming out as the winner.

In the last World Cup of Hockey, 2016, television ratings in the United States came back favorably for the tournament with the USA-Canada game on ESPN drawing 766,000 viewers. At the time that would have been considered above average for a regular-season game. From a revenue perspective, the estimated revenue of the last tournament was $40 million – a rather lackluster number for revenue and, overall, the ratings were not that strong on television, either. But, this is all a part of the bigger picture.

With the CBA firmly closed until 2022, the NHL can now focus on its efforts to increase its global presence. The World Cup of Hockey is going to be just one of those efforts.

Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey (Bruce BennettPool Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

“I’ve talked in recent days about our ongoing discussions with the Players’ Association on a variety of collective bargaining matters,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly on Friday. “One of them has been the international calendar and kind of developing one, particularly now that we have some runway with at least three years, and hopefully when we get to the end of this process potentially longer, maybe six or seven years, to build out an international calendar. And (the) World Cup would be part of that conversation.”

NHL Expansion Test Runs

The NHL is looking to push into new markets, and, with new markets in the United States and Canada becoming scarce, there is a desire to grow abroad. This is a topic that Daly has broached in the past as there is only so much expansion that can take place in North America.

The World Cup of Hockey and the other international initiatives the NHL are putting on are test projects of sorts that could determine future league expansion. Using ratings, attendance, and other data collected from the event and other global initiatives will allow the NHL to see exactly where the product is most popular and hone in on those locations for future expansion teams.

Canada and Team Europe face off in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Overall the World Cup of Hockey had rough spots the last time around and was based exclusively in Toronto, Canada. It is unclear if the return of it also means a single base of operation situation, or if the NHL will look to take a little bit of risk and host it in a European market. Either way bringing back the World Cup of Hockey is a great way to see NHL players playing in an international format given that the Olympics have been off-limits for players in the league.

Either way, the reintroduction of the World Cup of Hockey is good news for fans. No timetable has been set yet, and no official announcement has come out of the NHL, other than the comments made by Daly. With the previous tournaments running at 10-year intervals, this next World Cup of Hockey will be well short of that previous timing, but will help fill the previously mentioned Olympic void in the NHL.