Over the last decade, much has been written regarding the National Hockey League’s long-term ambitions to expand overseas since it voiced optimism of such growth back in 2008.
Since then, the NHL’s expansion has remained domestic, adding Las Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, and the Seattle Kraken, which starts next season. However, the NHL has maintained a presence in several international markets, hosting exhibition and preseason games in Europe in front of big crowds.
Of course, further such plans have been entirely muddled by the COVID-19 outbreak. But as some parts of the world begin to emerge from the clutches of pandemic restrictions and as the league starts the process of returning to normal, YouGov took a closer look at team fandom across those international markets.
There’s no denying the love of hockey in parts of Europe. Once upon a time, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly mused publicly about a permanent presence across the Atlantic. Of course, that never came to be, but the league has hosted games in Germany, Switzerland and Sweden in recent years.
Among German NHL followers, the Chicago Blackhawks reign supreme, with 18% of fans indicating support. But that’s a slim lead over the 16% who support the Edmonton Oilers, whose position doesn’t come as huge surprise since Edmonton is currently home to two of the top-performing German players Leon Draisaiti and Dominik Kahun. The Detroit Red Wings (13%), the Dallas Stars (11%) and the LA Kings (11%) also have healthy support among German fans.
In Switzerland, home country to 12 active league players, the Montreal Canadians enjoy the support of nearly a quarter (23%) of NHL fans, ahead of the New York Rangers (22%) and the Nashville Predators (20%), where the top-ranked Swiss defenseman Roman Josi plays. Colorado Avalanche (17%) and Toronto Maple Leafs (15%) also have a captive audience among Swiss fans.
When it comes to exporting hockey players, there is no other European country that holds a candle to Sweden, where 98 active NHL player are from. Among Swedish fans, roughly a quarter (26%) support the New York Rangers, well ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs (15%), Detroit Red Wings (13%), Washington Capitals (12%), and Vancouver Canucks (11%), where superstar brothers Henrik and Daniel Sedin played out their entire careers.
While international expansion was always a long-term dream for the NHL, its plans will no doubt have been hampered by the disruption of COVID-19. But if the league’s outreach can return quickly, including international preseason games and wider broadcast distributions, there’s plenty of passion in Europe.
Methodology: YouGov Global Fan Profiles, which includes data from 38 markets, is based on continuously collected data from several sources, rather than from a single limited questionnaire. Data referenced is based on a sample size of between 154 and 7,052 adults. Online interviews were conducted between January – April 2021.