Q&A: NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly on growing hockey in China – Sportsnet.ca

With more than 1.4-billion people and a rapidly expanding middle class, China is a potentially massive sports market. While sports like soccer and basketball are played widely across the country, it has just more than 1,000 registered hockey players, according to the International Ice Hockey Federation. But with the Winter Olympics coming to Beijing in 2022, the Chinese government has committed to the development of winter sports across the country. The NHL has viewed this interest as a potential opportunity to grow the sport and expand its brand in China.

Next week, the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings will play a pair of exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai — the first time an NHL game will be contested on Chinese soil. Whether the games will have an impact on developing the NHL brand in the Far East remains to seen. But the league believes the potential is well worth the investment.

Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, spoke with me about the league’s strategy in China, barriers faced in growing the game, and the possibility of international expansion in the future. This is an edited version of our conversation.

Sportsnet: When did the idea for these exhibition games first begin?

Bill Daly: I would say probably a year, to two years ago. In prior years, our international strategy had probably intentionally omitted the Far East, in part because of a lack of hockey interest and infrastructure — and probably a view that we should concentrate on where hockey is popular, where it’s producing players as an initial step of a broader international strategy.

We’ve evolved now to a point where I think that the game is in a really good place and we have an opportunity to invest in a more significant and impactful international strategy that includes investment

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