Caixin
Jan 19, 2017 07:25 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

Tencent Counts on China to Warm Up to Hockey with NHL Deal

(Beijing) — Internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. has formed a partnership with North America’s National Hockey League (NHL), gearing up for a day when the cold-weather sport gains traction as Beijing gets set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Under their strategic cooperation, Tencent Holdings Ltd. will be allowed to broadcast NHL championships in China on its video sites and mobile platforms for the next five years, the company announced on Wednesday. No price was given.

Tencent and the 30-team NHL will also work together on sponsorship agreements, offline events, developing ice hockey-themed mobile games, and authorized distribution of merchandise online.

Analysts say Tencent is skating to where the puck may be, hoping for the little-followed sport to develop its own fans and eventually homegrown leagues. China currently has just a single professional ice-hockey team, though about 3,000 people participate in youth play in Beijing.

The deal also comes as a broader wave of licensing agreements between Chinese online video companies and major global sporting events and leagues, as names like Tencent, iQiyi and Youku Tudou chase high-quality and exclusive content to build up their audiences.

“Right now, it’s still a niche hobby, and it won’t be widely popularized until at least five years from now,” said Zhang Qing, CEO of sports consulting firm Key-Solution. “It’s not too early for Tencent to start staking its turf. Broadcasts will also help to promote the game, which has huge potential in China.”

NHL Vice President Bill Daly called the partnership an entrance into the world’s largest untapped hockey market. “Rome was not built in a day, and in the short term, we need to first build hockey’s presence here,” he said.

China has yet to become a strong contender in winter sports, and the government has set high goals to prepare the nation for hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

A top economic planner expects China’s winter sports industry to reach 1 trillion yuan ($146 billion) by 2025, while the sports bureau has introduced a “300 million citizens on ice and snow” initiative.

“Traditionally, we have been weak in ice and snow events, and the nation is placing a high priority on closing that gap,” said Ren Hai, a professor at Beijing Sport University.

Contact reporter April Ma (fangjingma@caixin.com)

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