Report: KHL expanding to London
Call it #Brexpansion.
On Friday, a Russian sports website announced that the KHL will put an expansion team in London, England.
It's the latest aggressive move by the Russian-based circuit which is spread over vast stretches of two continents. The league will unveil its first China-based team, Kunlun Red Star, in Beijing this season.
Although it would seem to be a natural to host a major-league team due to its size and status as one of the world's greatest cities, London's history with the sport makes it far from a sure bet. The U.K.'s 10-team Elite Ice Hockey League hasn't iced a squad in the capital since 2005-06 when the London Racers folded due to a poor facilities. And while the EIHL always kept an eye on the market, a return is hardly imminent.
Facilities aren't a problem now, at least in terms of quality. The O2 Arena, which holds up to 23,000 spectators, is a world-class building that hosted two NHL regular-season games between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings back in 2007. But it's also the world's busiest arena, which could lead to scheduling issues.
And it remains to be seen what sort of appetite the city has for hockey. The EIHL is a non-entity in a city obsessed with its five English Premier League football teams, but the major-league status of the KHL, with its ability to attract higher quality athletes and presence in other world-class markets, could be exactly what the sport needs to find a toehold in London.
If nothing else, the KHL enhances the visibility of hockey in an untapped and potentially lucrative market. But it is the planting of a flag for the KHL that's most intriguing, especially as it sets the stage for future expansion into Paris, Berlin and Rome. The NHL has expressed interest in Europe for years, but has yet to develop any sort of sustainable plan for building a presence on the continent. The presence of the KHL might not stop the NHL if and when it gets its act together, but the rival league poses serious obstacles in terms of building availability and fan support that the NHL might find difficult to overcome.
However it unfolds, it'll be fun to watch.