Saturday, 25 May 2019

Hockey Night In Dubai?

It's hard to imagine that we'd find hockey in the middle of the desert, but if they can do it in Glendale, they likely can do it elsewhere as well. With the KHL in off-season mode, there's all sorts of news pouring out of the league regarding free agency and franchises, and there was some chatter seen on social media this week about the KHL taking long look at Dubai as being a place to where the KHL could expand. While this seems far-fetched at first mention, the more you look at the factors involved it actually seems like a shrewd expansion idea. If you're going to go big, KHL, go really big!

Dubai Nights

Dubai, which has found all sorts of wealth since the 1960s with discoveries of oil and gold within their borders, turned to foreigners to help extract these resources and, in turn, build the city and country into a place of extravagance. As a result of decades and generations of foreigners being responsible for the growth of this extravangance, Emiratis represent just 11 per cent of its total population.

Contained within the roughly-35-square-kilometer metropolis are 2,504,000 people as of 2016. According to reports, approximately 75% of this population total is male. On top of this, "as many as 10,000 Russian expatriates and overall above 55,000 Russian speakers from CIS (former Soviet Republics) countries live throughout the country, with the majority having made Dubai and Northern Emirates their home," according to Russia Today, so there is a sizable group of ex-pats who likely want to see their favorite sport played in their new homeland. Add in the fact that some "500,000 Russian tourists come to the United Arab Emirates every year," and you have the potential for having a very pro-Russian crowd at KHL games in Dubai.

If that wasn't enough, there are approximately 40,000 Canadians, 1500 Finns, 3000 Swedes, and over 50,000 Americans - 9,000 United States citizens in Dubai alone - that call United Arab Emirates home, so you'll likely get a few other ex-pat hockey fans going to games as well.

In short, there likely is a market in Dubai for hockey if someone wants to set up shop there.

According to the report that was filed with Sport Express, the expansion into Dubai would coincide with the building of a new arena with the potential first game coming in 2021-22. UAE Hockey Federation President Vladimir Burdun stated he spoke with many North American players about the possibility of moving to Dubai if or when the expansion happens, and it seems he has buy-in from those players.

For a country with a average daytime temperatures of 24°C in the winter, it would seem almost crazy to think that we're talking about hockey being played there, but both Glendale and Las Vegas seem to have no issues putting ice in buildings for those teams. Official KHL expansion plans into Dubai haven't been announced yet, but it seems like this is only a matter of time at this point based on the comments from Burdun and the demographics shown above.

W. P. Kinsella was right - if you build it, they will come.

New Owner, Familiar Name

For some time, the Jokerit club in Finland has had Russian interests holding the purse strings as they played in the Finnish Elite League and as they transitioned into the KHL. With the success of the team in the KHL, it became fairly clear that the success of finding good players and convincing great Finnish players to stay was solely on the shoulders of General Manager Jari Kurri who leveraged that Russian money into a solid franchise.

This week, though, it was announced that Kurri would take on a larger role as the Hall-of-Fame Finn became the new owner of Jokerit as well as being named Chairman of the Board for the franchise! The Edmonton Oilers legend assumes control of the club by becoming the sole owner at 100% ownership, so he'll not only direct this club in terms of its successes on the ice, but he'll be instrumental for its successes off the ice as well.

From the looks of it, Finnish fans approve of this new leadership and for the transparency from the club in putting the club back into primarily Finnish hands. Whether or not it pays off in the long-term will be seen down the road, but this moved seemed to be the right one for Jokerit Helsinki fans as their homegrown legend now can add to his legacy by possibly guiding the club to a Gagarin Cup.

Expanding Their Reach

The KHL has already announced that there will be games played in Europe this season after having sent Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod and Dinamo Riga having played in England with Coventry, Nottingham, and Sheffield hosting the Russian clubs. Along with the games in England, the KHL also went to Zurich, Switzerland where Dinamo Riga hosted SKA St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow, and Vienna, Austria was the home city for Slovan Bratislava as they were the home team against both SKA St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow. With the success of those games, where would the KHL look to send their teams this year?

I'm not certain this is necessary based on the fact they usually send a team to the Spengler Cup, but it seems that Swiss city Davos will host Salavat Yulaev Ufa and Ak Bars Kazan in a regular season KHL game in December at Vaillant Arena, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. That regular season game will be the last one for Salavat Yulaev Ufa before they spend the next week playing in the Spengler Cup. Once done at the annual Swiss tournament, they will resume their regular season play in the KHL.

If the rumours are true, expect the KHL to look at a possible game or games in France and possibly a game or games in Italy after Italy's success at the this year's IIHF World Championship. Either way, getting a KHL game in the old barn at Davos will likely be a good opening event for the Spengler Cup, and it may give the KHL circuit a few more fans in the European city.

Lots of KHL news from this past week, so there's your updates from across the pond. While the KHL is providing second lives to players who seemed to have been squeezed out of an NHL job, the league should be given credit for expanding its reach across Europe and into the Middle East when the NHL seems to be willing just to offer crumbs to European and Asian fans of their league.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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