08 September 2011
In 1964 through 1966, America was flooded with countless musicians that hailed from the United Kingdom. Many termed this period "the British Invasion". We were able to listen to the unique sounds of The Beatles, Chad & Jeremy, and The Rolling Stones amongst others. You might say that the British Invasion shaped the American music culture permanently. Since that period, America hasn't really paid the favor back. Sure, we've sent over various artists but we've never had earth shattering results. I, for one, propose that after 45 years of waiting, we pay our UK brethren back - in the form of ice hockey. It is time for the NHL to invade the United Kingdom.
It is no secret that the NHL has their eyes set on Europe. Whispers behind closed doors have discussed team expansion into Europe. Although not viable at the moment, there will come a day where the commissioner will give the experiment the green light. But before the league even put its foot forward, they have to come to terms that the NHL game is not available to Europe's general public. Yes, we all know that Center Ice is available online, but until you drastically improve the schematics of it - it continues to be a limited option.
Enter BBC Radio.
We all can recall that the National Hockey League signed an exclusive 10-year $100 million satellite radio deal with XM radio in 2005. In the same year, they forgot to open the door to other countries. Since SiriusXM is only available in North America, the league should seek a UK radio deal with BBC Radio 5, which is their station that does live broadcasts of sporting events. A 2-year $5 million dollar deal isn't out of the realm of possibility for select games.
Do you think that BBC Radio 5 would be interested?
Consider that since September 2007, the league has opened their season with shipping teams across the pond to gain the attention of Europeans. It started with the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks in London's O2 Arena and it will continue this year with the Rangers, Sabres, Kings, and Ducks making stops in Germany, Finland, and Sweden. When the European front debuted, the NHL attracted more than 17,000 fans in the September 29th game that featured the Kings and Ducks. If you fast forward to look at the numbers for last season, they are very comparable:
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Minnesota Wild (Two Game Set)
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Total Attendance: 25,800
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. San Jose Sharks (Two Game Set)
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Total Attendance: 20,861
Boston Bruins vs. Phoenix Coyotes (Two Game Set)
Location: Prague Czech Republic
Total Attendance: 28,219
After four seasons of opening games, the numbers state that there is a growing interest from European hockey fans. If the league wants to sustain interest over the long haul, they need to find new ways to bring the NHL game to Europe. The obvious issue is availability, given the fact that Europe is across the globe and at least five hours ahead (if not more) of the eastern standard time. The baby step solution would be to work out a broadcasting deal with BBC Radio 5. From a business standpoint, you won't be able to tackle Europe all at once. A deal with the British Broadcasting Corporation plants the seeds for future expansion into Germany, France, and Finland - provided the UK experiment works.
In the beginning, the timing conflicts would force the NHL's hand. For a prime time slot in the UK, they would have to stick to broadcasting select 1:00PM EST weekend games. If those games are well received, the league could then add night broadcasts with the addition of select 7:00PM EST games. Though it would be 12AM in the UK, you could still test the waters and market it as a sports holiday nightcap. The initial issue is availability, not timing. If you can work your way onto the airwaves for public broadcast, it will set the foundation for years to come. Now you may think that broadcasting games at 12 AM GMT (or 3AM GMT for west coast games) might be crazy, but I would be willing to bet that if you make the games somewhat accessible for consumption, you're going to get a response. If the NHL is serious about maintaining a European audience, they need to make an addition to their NHL Premiere series every year. A new media consumption development for the 2012-2012 season in the UK might just be the first step they need to gain a strong hold in Europe.