KHL Step Closer to London Amid Confusion

imageThe long rumoured London KHL franchise appears to be a step closer now that they have been given the green light by somebody in the UK whether it is the EIHA, EIHL or icehockeyUK. But the sport in the UK is still getting confused overseas.

What this has shown is that outside of the UK there is still a lack of understanding of UK ice hockey. There has been an abundance of news on this from North American. This has been mostly due to the long interest in the NHL moving to London. However top pundit and Puck Daddy’s own Greg Wyshynski announced the news as;

“That the Great Britain Ice Hockey Federation gave permission to the Russian hockey league to put an expansion team in London.

There is no Great Britain Ice Hockey Federation and this sums up the problem. If one of the sports top pundits in Greg Wyshynski does not know who governs the sport in the UK then how do we as a sport attract outside investment in terms of sponsorship, ownership, players and coaching.

A worry is that there could be a lack of understanding regarding sports in the capital. London is a huge place and there are many parts. A look at football’s Premier League and the deep rivalries that exist serve as an example. Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham all have their own fanbases and never the twain shall meet and does not stop there. It is true in the lower leagues. Sports have tried to unite the capital under one banner. The London Broncos rugby team for example has not captured a big audience. In hockey as well the London Knights did have some success but this was based on big money and big on ice success something which the London Racers. In the NIHL those splits occur with Streatham, Raiders, Chelmsford, Lee Valley and Harringay.

Whether or not the KHL does materialise in the UK it will hoped this process sheds some light on the sport in the UK. And whilst far from assured it could encourage some investment and interest in the domestic game.

Overall though is it  a good thing? I am not sure. In someways it could be. It could take our players to another level in theory but a look at the Medvecsak Zagreb line up will tell you it has perhaps not worked for the Croatian side yet as the gulf in class between the domestic league and the KHL is too high. There could be a boost in terms of the promotion of the sport though.

An influx of money to support the new team and promote will have an effect on the rest of the sport raising its profile somewhat in a similar to the american football in the 1990’s with the Scottish Claymores and London Monarch franchises. However this is perhaps only temporary once the newness wears off.

For KHL to come to London it will be costly and if not successful at first could fail to take off and that could be hurtful to more than just the KHL with the UK game already suffering from a lack of stability. This summer almost losing the Bracknell Bees and Manchester Phoenix and have lost the Sheffield Spartans.

And the KHL does have precedence in changing its mind. Its involvement with Milano Rossoblu petered out after 3 seasons stating a small arena, an underdeveloped club and tight finances. Lev Praha were succesful but didn’t last and

The arena issue is not a problem with O2 an obvious choice but if AEG and Los Angeles Kings owner Philip Anschultz does not agree to this there is Wembley Arena. The underdevelopment of a club could be a problem if they decide to take on an existing club as it did in Zagreb with London sides (whilst doing amazing with volunteers and tiny budgets) nowhere near the KHL level. This could be overcome if the league puts its own team in.

Money is the biggest issue. The KHL is not itself and overly wealthy league and some of its teams have struggled. The model has been to provide support to a owner in setting up a team rather than creating this themselves and with UK’s current financial situation with the plummeting pound following the Brexit it does not make it an easy investment.

Whilst this is a step forward I would be surprised it happens quickly. The KHL has many feelers out regarding its expansions. In Europe alone they have shown interested in Stavangar Oilers from Norway, Sweden’s Malmo Redhawks, Vetra Vilnius from Lithuania, Ilves Tallinn in Estonia and Gdansk in Poland.

It will be a talking point for a some time but I think it is clear that sooner or later there will be a London franchise in an international league. Based not on its place or fanbase in the sport in the UK but because London is by far more well known and marketable outside of the UK.

Neil Tucker

Neil has written on ice hockey for many websites concentrating on British ice hockey mostly. Neil also covers ice hockey in other countries and organises his Blueliner Hockey Tour. A graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University Neil turned his hand to hockey writing in 2009. As well as contributing on Blueliner Hockey Neil has contributed to Get Real Hockey and Slapshot Magasine.

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