With KHL president Alexander Medvedev announcing his plan for a trans European league comprising of 64 teams we thought it would be good to look at the options for a UK based KHL franchise.
The capital city has been talked about several times as a possible host of a ‘super’ league franchise. First of all was it was mooted as a possible venue for an NHL franchise but now it could be the KHL that comes calling.
Venue: o2 Arena – There could only be one really. The o2 more than matches all the requirements for a top-level sports franchise. It has the facilities for the players, fans and sponsors. The transport links, the seating capacity and the knowhow are also in place.
Positives: London is a major capital city with flights to all cities on a daily basis making it very easy for the team to move around and for visiting sides. An ice hockey franchise could tap into the Canadian and other foreign populations in the city.
Negatives: Whilst the o2 is a top class venue other facilities in the capital for a top ice hockey side sadly are lacking but with the billions being pumped in what is another million or two here and there. The major issue with a London franchise is the fan base. Soccer has fragmented fans in London into smaller groups. These groups as sports fans in general do not associate themselves with London as entity meaning a team could struggle to gain the large support needed to become sustainable. The London Broncos rugby league team are an example of this as were the London Monarchs of NFL Europe. London has also not seen a top-flight hockey franchise since 2006 when the Racers folded mid season. Also an ice hockey franchise would face massive competition from sports, concerts and other entertainment.
Nottingham has one of largest fan bases for ice hockey in the UK. The Panthers are a profitable organisation in the EIHL and have a history.
Venue: National Ice Centre – The NIC is a top class ice facility. Whilst it may lack some of the arena comforts there is no doubting the ability to host top class events. The capacity too is inline with many current KHL franchises and the option of the second ice pad to be used for training purposes is a boost.
Positives: The fan base in Nottingham is the biggest advantage for any franchise but this would only come with promoting the Panthers to the KHL level. In the Panthers there is an organisation that could form the basis of larger franchise.
Negatives: Nottingham’s biggest problem is its location. East Midlands airport is close by but is not the best for international visitors from more unusual destinations. It is the Panthers or nothing and they may be unlikely to make the move.
Manchester is a city on the up. There has been massive investment in the city centre over the last 20 years, it has a strong sporting history and is well known across Europe. It also has the last British venue to host a European ice hockey league match.
Venue: The Manchester Arena – Whilst aging a little bit now the Manchester Arena is still a top class venue. With a capacity of over 17,000 it would exceed most in the KHL at present.
Positives: Manchester has good internal infrastructure with the new tramways and Manchester Airport is major hub for incoming flights from many destinations. Manchester also has a history in ice hockey in Europe thanks to the Manchester Storm’s participation in the EHL in the 1990’s.
Negatives: The cost of the arena may be the second biggest problem. Many of the fans from the Storm glory days have drifted away, which led to their demise and the Manchester Phoenix were forced to leave due the arena due to the costs. The biggest problem may be securing the venue in the first place.
Sheffield would not be first place someone may think of for an international franchise but it does have key ingredients such as a successful ice hockey club, facilities, and a fan base.
Venue: The Motorpoint Arena – The arena would match the existing teams in the KHL in terms of capacity however some investment would probably be needed to improve the facilities.
Positives: The Sheffield Steelers are already a popular and successful hockey club, which could be transformed with the right investment. The facilities at Ice Sheffield for training would be almost ideal.
Negatives: Sheffield would be difficult to get to and from for a franchise that would be off to Europe every week.
North of the border has been the hotbed for British ice hockey players starting out. Glasgow is also a city in resurgence with hosting the 2014 Commonwealth games and has a history of being in a European league thanks to the Scottish Claymores NFL Europe franchise.
Venue: Braehead Arena – The arena is used to hosting ice hockey matches and at all levels. A capacity 4,000 whilst small would not be the smallest in the KHL.
Positives: Glasgow has an experience of trans European leagues having hosted an NFL Europe franchise for several seasons. There is a knowledge fan base and an airport close to the city centre.Negatives: At a capacity of 4,000 the Braehead Arena is a bit small and there is a lack of corporate facilities. There is not another ice facility in Glasgow that could be used as training for a squad.
Internationally Belfast is getting a growing reputation as a place to visit and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board is looking at many ways to promote the city.Venue: The Odyssey Arena – A top class venue and a size that could be potentially be filled regularly.
Positives: There is a fan base of ice hockey fans in Belfast and the Giants are a franchise that is used to making plane journeys.
There is an arena and an international airport close to the city centre.
Negatives: The Giants would need investment to bring their team up to standard and wou
ld need investment in the Dundonald Ice Bowl as a training facility.