In September 2017, Bejing hosted the first ever NHL game played in China. The NHL wanted to commit to the largest market in the world to build interest in hockey. Bringing a sport into a country without any past precedent gave the league many challenges. They wanted to build interest from the ground up by generating interest at the local level in public schools. The league reached out via social media and other sponsorships for equipment and instruction to begin the integration. The noted success of the NBA to drive interest in this market gave the NHL reason to believe this area of the world would be welcoming to hockey.
The league exercised strong intercultural empathy when they recognized that Chinese sports fans aren’t loud and boisterous like Westerners. Observing the game, Jessica Guo of the Bloomage International Investment Group was hesitant about the immediate reception of the games. She noted “everyone was responding to the games, what was going on, and cheering.”
The NHL is seeking to build the infrastructure required to sustain an interest in hockey for the long term. At this moment, the biggest issue is the details of game play and scheduling. Players haven’t had an issue with the long flights yet, however the league is unsure what future pre-season schedules will look like. 2018 is the second year of NHL participation in China and the league is looking towards potentially participating in the 2022 Olympics, also in Bejiing, after not participating in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.
The NHL and NBA are great examples of effective Psychological Capital; the interest in exploring other parts of the world and an understanding how the culture engages. Both of these leagues were diplomatic in their approach to building on the needs of what the environment needed, rather than what was a success in the past.
Time, schedule and the interest generated will tell how the NHL navigates it’s way in the China market. The league has yet to detail if and when a regular season game would be played in China in the coming seasons. Tension could build as the league breaks new ground in an international market. Could China be home to an NHL team? Thibault (2009) asks “What are we willing to give up to promote sport and the sport industry to ensure a more globally egalitarian solution with respect to sport?” I see this as the biggest question in regards to expanding the brand and interest to the Chinese market.