By Michael Teich
The NHL is taking a page out of the NBA's international playbook, planning a Chinese expansion to develop a hockey culture in the world's most populous country.
"It's a content play," said New Jersey Devils President Hugh Weber in an interview on Cheddar Monday. "There are 300 million people in China alone who play basketball. We're seeing this also in hockey."
China's population of 1.4 billion presents a massive opportunity for growth, but hockey has been slower to catch on than others sports such as basketball. The NBA will play its 25th and 26th games in the country early in October.
Last year, China asked the NHL for help building hockey infrastructure and a national team ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The Chinese government reportedly sees 300 million citizens competing in winter sports before the games.
NHL teams will play seven games overseas this season. In addition to China, there will be match-ups in Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, and Finland. That's more than the NBA and the NFL, which each will play four games overseas.
While China is a main expansion target of the league, the Devils may have found a sweet spot in Europe, Weber said.
With 60 percent of players on the team born outside the U.S., Weber said he sees a big opportunity to connect with fans, particularly in Nordic countries already familiar with the sport.
"We have a lot of young European stars. This is why the team will be featured live in prime time in Europe 12 times this year."
The New Jersey Devils kick off the preseason Monday night against the New York Rangers. Their first regular season game will be in Sweden on October 6, when they'll go up against the Edmonton Oilers.
For full interview click here.