One of the hot topics in the NHL has been expansion, with rumors of Quebec, Seattle, Toronto and Las Vegas as potential cities. However, this thinking seems a bit too narrow sighted. The NHL should set its sights on something much higher – Europe.
Such a trailblazing move is sure to be met with a lot of skepticism by naysayers, so lets examine the major surrounding issues. The most important aspects to consider are:
- Scheduling and alignment
- Location and logistics
- Fan Support and revenue
Lets first start by weighing potential markets, as the rest of the details will follow. For obvious logistical purposes, Europe would need to have its own division, which would be a mixture of expansion teams and relocations. To have a big enough division, there would need to be six teams. In order to not dilute the talent or expand to far this would have to be done with a mixture of two expansion teams and four relocations.
Considering location, market size and interest in hockey the six European cities to be awarded a team would be as follows:
- Stockholm, Sweden
- Helsinki, Finland
- Berlin, Germany
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Zurich, Switzerland
- Bratislava, Slovakia
Other cities given consideration (which could be possible future cities for expansion): Vienna, Austria, Oslo Norway, Riga, Latvia, Minsk, Belarus
As for the current NHL teams to be relocated, the four franchises at the bottom of attendance capacity percentage would be moved:
- Florida Panthers (75.5%)
- Arizona Coyotes (80.4%)
- Columbus Blue Jackets (82.1%)
- Carolina Hurricanes (82.9%)
By making such a swap, this will also remedy the current problem of having imbalanced conferences. Three Eastern Conference teams and one Western Conference team would be on the move, creating an even number of 13 teams in each of the current conferences.
Logistics & Scheduling
After getting the locations and alignment sorted out, the next issue to tackle would be logistics and scheduling (the part where most skeptics will point to). As it is now, every NHL team goes on a long road trip on the other side of North America, so that’d be nothing new. A flight from New York to Los Angeles takes roughly six hours. In comparison, a flight from New York to Helsinki take about eight hours, so the difference is negligible.
For the European teams the schedule would be as follows:
- Each European team would play each other a total of six times, adding up to (5×6) 30 games
- Each European team would play each Eastern Conference and Western Conference team twice (home and home) adding up to (13x2x2) 52 games, and rounding out the 82 game regular-season schedule
As for playoff qualification, the top three teams from each division (Metropolitan, Atlantic, Central, Pacific and European) would automatically qualify. The last spot would be a Wild Card, reserved for the top finisher among the non-automatic qualifiers.
For TV scheduling purposes, the European home games would be played on the weekends (and during the week as often as possible), meaning they could be aired in Primetime in the eastern and central time zones.
Fan Support & Revenue
The six European cities selected are all in markets where hockey is among the top sports. Outside of North America, Sweden, Finland and Germany are among NHL.com’s top traffic sources. Not to mention, when the NHL held its European Premiere games, attendance was always rock solid. Imagine how loyal diehard European hockey fans would be if they had their own team or how excited they’d be to see the likes of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin play every year.
Where the NHL could expect its biggest boost is in regards to revenue. Four struggling franchises would be replaced with huge European markets, and two additional European markers would also be added. Not only are each of the six selected European markets lucrative, they’re all in a different country. This means each European team would have its own national t.v. deal and would maximize demand for the product. Additionally, the NHL would benefit from new sponsorship opportunities and a boost in merchandise sales.
There is a huge opportunity to be had. A swift move to Europe would not only boost revenue, but also bolster the NHL brand. Other North America sports leagues have toyed with the idea of European expansion, but none have yet to brave the waters. If the NHL strikes first, it’d be seen as a true innovator and also would better position itself on the international stage as it sets to reinstate the World Cup of Hockey.