KHL looks to expand into the UK

Two tweets sent out Friday afternoon sent shockwaves through hockey twitter, especially in the UK.

KHL Tweet

KHL Tweet 2

There’s no smoke without fire and there’s nothing to say that this news isn’t based upon some truth.

However the fact of matter is that unless the KHL are prepared to spend, spend and spend some more, a team in London is but just a pipe-dream for all concerned.

As it stands, there’s a huge question mark over where this new franchise would call home.
The two most viable options are the O2 Arena and Wembley Arena.
However both are almost extensively in use during the winter months of the year and the constant installing and removal of the ice would be a huge cost in itself.
Add to this any work needed to be done and the rent of either building for such an extended period of the year.
Alexandra Palace neither has the capability or capacity to host and therefore you’re left with looking to build a brand new facility, a huge gamble in today’s financial climate.

I’m led to believe that Elite league teams are run on a budget of approximately £550,000 per season.
Even the smaller KHL teams run well into seven if not eight figure sums, so where does that extra money come from for a London franchise?
Increased sponsorship to cover such amounts of money appears extremely unfeasible, and there is little in the way of national (written, television and internet) media currently promoting the Elite League, let alone a brand new team and league.
Just how much intrigue would there be short or long term in this venture?

The other consideration is that the KHL has no brand awareness in the UK.
Even non-hockey fans may have heard of the NHL, and possibly names such as Sidney Crosby and Wayne Gretzky.
An NHL we must remember, that barely promotes itself outside North America and isn’t freely available to view in the UK.
I’m sure the general public would draw a blank if you asked them what sport the KHL was a part of.

Let’s cut to the chase.
Ice Hockey is VERY much a minority sport in the UK, enjoying only a brief high during the Super League days (1996-2003).
The current Elite League is made up of ten teams, of which four are based in Scotland, one in Wales and Northern Ireland respectively and the remainder situated in England (Coventry the most southern).
They rely on small but extremely passionate fan bases, who support their local teams in a similar way to football fans.
Attendances are on the rise, but in small increments and the best supported team in 2015/16 was the Nottingham Panthers with an average crowd of 5,713.

You could not count on fans of Elite league teams to support a KHL franchise, though there would likely be an interest into partaking a game or two through a season.
Generating a fan base (let alone season ticket sales) in London for a city franchise team would be a hard sell with hockey supported in a local way through the UK. Previous attempts at top tier hockey in London have failed to deliver the goods long term, in what proved money-losing enterprises.

Add to that the fact that there are many competitors for sporting action in the capital.
Five EPL teams are based in London and a further eight football teams play in the professional leagues.
Rugby Union is also a huge pull with two teams and huge international games each winter.
Watching sport is expensive in London and whether those who watch the aforementioned or any other sport in London would have the extra cash (with tickets not likely to be cheap) to spend on hockey is debateable.

Would fans, committed or the casual, want to watch a team beaten out of sight every night?
Even a losing team needs to be competitive on a game by game basis to keep the interest and the KHL could ill afford to have one of it’s franchises made a laughing stock on the playing side.

“London” would have to ice five British born players, a tough task in itself to find players anywhere near the KHL standard and then there’s the issue of trying to encourage the better players from overseas to join them. The UK might be an easy sell from the language side but in every other facet, potential players would need a lot of convincing that London was a viable team to ply their trade for.

A huge step up in player quality would be required, the truth being that this franchise would need to be a winning one for it to be successive and that primarily comes down to the money issue.

With the NHL resting on it’s laurels, the KHL is looking to expand it’s reach into the Western World, though this might be a step too far for the time being.

There’s no doubt that the UK is a potential hockey goldmine if the KHL is prepared to spend copious amounts of time and money promoting a new franchise. In the short-term, this is a franchise that would leak money like a sieve.

How China’s new team fares, might be an indicator as to whether the KHL is ready to take it’s biggest gamble yet.


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