The NHL rocketed into the playoffs with record increases in TV, revenue and digital engagement, and is even poised for a big uptick in TV rights as their deals with the NHL and Versus come to a close. Europe and Canada continue to have thei. love affair with the game, and even the grassroots side is seeing a solid growth pattern. The same holds true in Major League Soccer, which continues to show gains at every level as a property. So as one looks for geographic areas of growth, the eye should venture north of the U.S. into Vancouver. Wh.
First of all the NHL's best story, still largely untold to the casual fan, is the Canucks. In terms of brand engagement, enthusiasm and quality on ice play, Vancouver dominates on a regional level. It is a vibrant cosmopolitan city with a diverse culture combining Asia and Canada and it the Canucks are literally the only show in town. However its isolation…the closest NHL rival is at least a thousand miles away in San Jose, California creates a problem for larger exposure for the league. The unbalanced schedule rarely bring Vancouver into markets like Chicago, New York or event Toronto, making their stars and their brand somewhat of a mystery to the casual observer, eventhough they have the league's best record. The opportunity for the Canucks to become much more regional in scope…even crossing in to the U.S. in markets like Seattle and Portland…presents great opportunity for planting larger hockey seeds in thos. growth areas, and the Canucks business model should be poised to take advantage of that growth in the digital age. Millions were exposed to Vancouver during the Winter Olympics, and it is time to re-engage those fans to an area that is far but not that far, and has a great hockey product.
Like the NHL, MLS has a solid opportunity in the region as well. Their challenge will probably be made easier by the joint expansion of the league into Portland (along with the great success story already in place in Seattle) and the fact that the Whitecaps already had a history of NASL success in the city. Natural rivalries can form pretty easily, and the diversity in the city today should add to a much easier adaptation of soccer as a key pillar of growth in sports fan engagement. It could also help in expanding the MLS footprint east, as Japan becomes more and more engaged in soccer and uses the Whitecaps success as an affinity partner with the large Asian population in the region.
There has been talk of the NBA returning to the city as well, although that team would face some of the challenges the Canucks do in terms of distance from other rivals. The Grizzlies failed there even with Seattle and Portland not that far away, but the time and culture has evolved since those days, and the NBA could make for an interesting fit back into a city where activity and vibrancy is growing with the economy. It is a long distance from the media centers of North America, but in today's ever shrinking global world, finding a way to expose the success of Vancouver to a new breed of fans and business partners would make great sense, especially for the two leagues, the NHL and MLS, who seem to be the most bullish on aggressive growth recently.