New Russian League swiping NHLers
New Russian League May Soon Test NHL's Influence in Europe
In America, you play hockey.
In Soviet Russia, hockey plays you!
That type of joke, popularized by Yakov Smirnoff, pokes fun at America's cold war foe, the USSR. Soon that same nation, now a democracy, may form a hockey league that may be nothing to laugh at. The Toronto Star is reporting that Russian businessman Alex Medvedev, owner of the European natural gas supplier Gazprom, is leading efforts to create a league rivaling the NHL in Russia and western Europe. Whether or not this will ultimately be successful is anyone's guess, but one thing is for sure -- Medvedev has the money to do it. According to Wikipedia, Gazprom showed revenue of about $83.6 billion in 2006.
If the league can gain enough steam, let alone get off the ground, is something that remains to be seen. There's certainly interest in a European league as many countries are fed up with the NHL's transfer agreement, including Russia, which is not bound to any transfer agreement with the league right now. I imagine some type of league that spans Europe would be a huge success, similar to the UEFA Champions League in soccer. Imagine teams from Germany, Russia, Sweden and the like competing year round. In addition, Medvedev's deep pockets could lure many European players into passing on the NHL and staying on their home continent to play the sport they love. Those don't seem like bad theories to build on from my distant point of view. As of right now, the league plans to start in Western Europe, leaving open the option for further expansion.
Medvedev said the new league would probably start with teams in Western Russian cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, and could also feature clubs in cities such as Kiev, Ukraine; Riga, Latvia; and Astana, Kazakhstan.
Teams are already feigning interest as Jokerit, the most successful team in Finland's Elite League, is not opposed to the idea of abandoning it's native league and joining up with the new Russian startup.
Jokerit, one of the most popular teams in Finland's elite league, would be a candidate to join, its owner said, even if it meant abandoning its domestic league.
Harry Harkimo, who also owns Jokerit's 13,464-seat arena in Helsinki, said his team would probably break even this year, even though it has more than 30 sponsors, plays in the largest arena in Finland, and receives several million dollars from broadcast contracts.
"A new league could mean more broadcast and sponsorship revenue," he said.
But there's still a punch line to all of this. While the league seems to have serious backing, one of the prime consultants in getting things up and running is none other than former NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow (cue the laugh track).