Today I will look at Vityaz and its results in September. I will then discuss the KHL’s presentation at the EHC Hockey Business Forum. Afterwards, I will debate on the NHL’s changing position towards their games in Russia, including a challenge game against the KHL sides.

The Parity Coming up

I will start with the KHL results on the ice. When we look at the KHL standings after the first month of the regular season, we can see Vityaz Moscow Region leading the competition. The Russian journalists call it a big surprise, but is it such a surprise? When we read the league’s statements over the last couple of years, we can see the KHL’s strategic aim – parity within the league. Vityaz and its results are the greatest examples of the league’s approach.

Of course, SKA St.Petersburg and CSKA Moscow are still among the top teams of their conference and the league itself. But they are not so dominant anymore – Vityaz defeated both this season.

On the other hand, we have Lokomotiv Yaroslavl whose results are below expectations. Their Canadian coach Craig MacTavish was relieved of his duties on September 24th. Lokomotiv is famous for giving a chance to its young prospects, and MacTavish was not able to get the best from them at the beginning of the season. 

The Eastern Conference has been more balanced even in the previous seasons. So far we have witnessed a very good start for Sibir Novosibirsk. The club had a bad start to the 2018-19 regular season, however now they are doing great. Metallurg Magnitogorsk standing at the bottom of the table is heavily discussed in the Russian press, who blame the club’s vice-president/GM Gennady Velichkin for their bad results. The main argument by journalists is the transfer policy of the club; experienced players with higher paychecks have not brought the appropriate results. Metallurg’s head coach Josef Jandač was released after a few games and was replaced by Ilya Vorobyov.

The KHL’s Business with New Technologies

Have you heard about the KHL Podcast? It is the league’s official podcast, available at Soundcloud and iTunes. The league started the Russian version (Лёдкаст) in the previous season, now they have added an English version called Icecast. The Latvian-Russian journalist Igor Eronko runs the show for the English version.

The KHL Marketing and Communications Vice-President Sergey Dobrokhvalov was a guest at Icecast Episode 2. He explained the smart pucks technology and the league’s business approach to it. I recommend you listen to him or read this article.

The KHL is the first hockey league in the world to use this technology in every game, even the NHL is not using it yet. But the KHL had just two-and-a-half months in the pre-season to implement the technology in all venues. Otherwise, the project would be postponed by one year, because the KHL did not want to implement it just for play-offs like the NHL plans to do.

Moreover, the KHL plans to use all of the data from this project for business. “It’s also a very good commercial project for betting companies and TV companies. The betting companies are one of our main targets in terms of commercialising this project. Live betting is growing very fast in Europe, it had 37% growth last year,” said Dobrokhvalov.

Of course, all data is already available to the clubs and their coaches. But it takes time to integrate the data with the existing platforms like mobile apps or the league’s website for it to be available to fans.

“We have a plan for when the different statistics will be available in the public domain. Right now, we have speed and distance available; month by month we will see more statistics. Soon fans and journalists will see everything that happens,” added Dobrokhvalov.

The KHL at the EHC Hockey Business Forum

Later Dobrokhvalov talked about another big project, this time in partnership with Germany’s SAP. The league wants to be closer to their fanbase.

“Our mission is that in three or four years we will know personally every hockey fan in the country. We will know everything about them, what they want, what they prefer and what they like. Then we can tailor the product to match what they want,” explained Dobrokhvalov. This project should help the league and its clubs to develop the business and earn more money at the end of the day.

Just a few days later, Sergey Dobrokhvalov and the KHL Vice-President Alexey Krasnov were among the speakers at the third annual EHC Hockey Business Forum, which took place in Berlin, Germany. The Forum took place before the game between NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and the German side Eisbären Berlin, so NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly was at the Forum as well.

Krasnov explained the KHL’s salary cap mechanism. “We have three goals related to finance: the financial stability of the clubs, growth of clubs’ commercial income and financial fair play – all of which will be accomplished through the cap ceiling and floor,“ he said.

European hockey leagues have not adopted such a mechanism to control clubs’ costs, while the KHL’s hard cap model will start working next season.

Dobrokhvalov talked about the partnership with SAP. “We are working with SAP to implement a system that will allow us to collect and analyse information about people who are interested in our league and clubs. Our goal is to get to know every fan over the next four years and develop opportunities to interact with them at a one-to-one level,” concluded Dobrokhvalov.

The NHL Knocking on KHL Doors

But the KHL representatives had another important mission in Berlin. They talked to Bill Daly about NHL teams visiting Russia.

Of course, the KHL has occasionally talked about a challenge game against the NHL. but Gary Bettman did not accept the offer. He did not see a reason for the NHL to travel to Russia. Now there is the reason because the NHL wants to promote their Russian television deal with Yandex.

The NHL wants their regular-season games in Russia, but the league is still hesitant to hold a game against the KHL clubs.

“The KHL has never declined such ideas, we are ready to play against the NHL. But the economy needs to be balanced. The NHL can not come to Russia to dictate their conditions,” explained the KHL Vice-President Valery Kamensky.

Roman Rotenberg is a very powerful person in both the Russian Hockey Federation (FHR) and the KHL. He proposed a challenge game, or even an NHL game, at football’s Gazprom Arena. He informed NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman about this proposal in Helsinki, Finland last year, while the NHL Global Series took place at Hartwall Arena.

The FHR recently hired Igor Larionov to advise Roman Rotenberg. So Larionov attended the NHL regular-season game in Prague, Czech Republic, to discuss with Bill Daly the idea of the NHL teams travelling to Russia next year.

He wrote on Instagram, “Bill Daly and his colleagues are ready to discuss the NHL visit to Russia. It would be cool to see the Capitals and the Red Wings at Russian venues to play against the KHL teams and, of course, the NHL regular-season game too. We will prolong the dialogue with each other in Stockholm, Sweden, next month when there is the NHL regular-season game.”

Great Attendance in September Resulting in League Record

Last but not least, let us talk attendance. Barys Nur-Sultan and the KRS Beijing played their regular-season games outside their cities this September, and the attendance at these games was great.

Barys played just two games at 12,275 seat arena in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Both games were visited by 24,253 people, averaging 12,126 fans per game.

The South-Chinese city of Shenzhen hosted six KRS Beijing games. Three games were attended by more than six thousand people, which is great for the team. Especially 8,115 attendance against Traktor Chelyabinsk on Sep 15th, which recorded KRS’s second-largest attendance in China. The weekend games were well-attended (6,253 and 7,716 and 8,115) while working days had much lower attendance (Tuesday 3,500; Wednesday 2,800 and Monday 4,117).

So, we can claim that those games in Almaty and Shenzhen were successful. Perhaps the league will promote itself in other markets next season. But, before this happens, we cannot forget about the KHL World Games taking place on December 23th in Davos, Switzerland. It will be a clash between Salavat Yulaev Ufa and Ak Bars Kazan.

Finally, I will sum up the attendance figures for September 2019. A total of 140 games were played that month, averaging 6,759 per game. It is a much higher average attendance for September than a year ago when September’s games were attended by 6,250 fans on average. But regarding September 2019, this attendance is a record not only for September but for all the months before January. The only exception is August 2015 – its 45 games had an average crowd of 6,847 fans.

For more discussions about the KHL, be sure to sign up to the ABNT Forum!

Feature Image Credit: (Photo by Alexander Demianchuk\TASS via Getty Images)

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I support European club hockey and I want European hockey to be as strong as possible. European hockey fans have witnessed too many attempts to launch a cross-border competition. I have been following hockey all my life and I have had the same question. Why is there not a hockey version of the UEFA Champions League? Or a European version of the NHL? 2008 was a year when a version of both, was launched. As a fan, I started to follow both leagues although it was not cool to follow the KHL at the time. Furthermore, it was a bit complicated to get the first-hand information about the KHL, the media did not cover the league as deeply as I would want. Based on my experience with the KHL & other European club hockey competitions I would like to write about the most important on and off-ice, issues of European club hockey.