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CHL targets broadcast deals in China and Russia

European ice hockey tournament the Champions Hockey League is keen to secure exposure in both China and Russia and has praised the “huge reach” of 26 broadcast deals covering 63 territories as it heads into its sixth season.

Speaking at a media briefing today, CHL chief executive Martin Baumann discussed the property’s broadcast aspirations and rights sales achieved by Infront, the agency that bought out the league’s media and sponsorship rights in a six-year deal from 2017-18 to 2022-23.

Fielding a question from SportBusiness about its aspirations from additional broadcast agreements, Baumann said: “The Russian market is definitely one we would like to attract, that deal is not done yet but it could be. It all depends on how the teams perform on the ice and how far those teams go.”

The Russian market has been a difficult one for Infront to derive any value from, given no sides from Russia have competed in the competition since it was reborn in 2014, and given the popularity of the Kontinental Hockey League. A total of 19 Russian teams (and one Chinese outfit) compete in the KHL.

Speaking as the CHL unveiled details of a comprehensive fan survey undertaken with the Two Circles agency, Baumann also noted that China would be “a very attractive market” and said that Infront was approaching broadcasters there to try and secure an agreement.

Infront stuck an agreement with CCTV, the Chinese state broadcaster, for the closing stages of the 2017-18 competition.

The CHL’s international broadcast footprint is often extended towards the end of the season as a handful of additional broadcasters come on board for the play-offs.

The total of 26 broadcasters (spanning 63 territories) is down on the 29 broadcasters (covering 65 territories) that were in place ahead of the 2018-19 campaign. The exposure previously assured in Macau (TDM) and Romania (TVR) is no longer in place, while there has been a switch of broadcaster in Poland, with Polsat replacing Eurosport in a deal running from 2019-20 to 2021-22.

Renewals have also been agreed in Canada (TSN), Ukraine (XSport) and USA (NHL Network).

Of the agreements negotiated by Infront with 26 different broadcasters, 21 of them run until the end of the 2022-23 season. The contracts in Belarus (BTRC), France (L’Équipe), Poland, Taiwan (ELTA) and Ukraine are the only deals which expire before Infront’s current agreement is also due to come to an end.

Free live streaming of matches is provided on the CHL website in territories in which broadcast deals are not in place.

Discussing the possibility of ramping up the OTT offering to include the property’s main markets, Baumann observed: “We are analysing this area. But there is the question about cannibalising our own product on the broadcasting side.”

Existing long-term broadcast contracts preclude the CHL from going directly to the consumer with its own live streaming in key markets. Nonetheless, the CHL chief executive added: “I’m pretty sure that in the future we will combine certain distribution channels to create even more reach.”

Fan survey and sponsorship ambitions

The CHL has championed its “fan-first” strategy introduced in 2017 to spark long-term commercial growth. As part of that approach, the league carried out European ice hockey’s largest-ever survey as over 21,000 fans were contacted. Two Circles was then commissioned to analyse the league’s current and potential fanbase, while the CHL digital platforms were audited to understand how they could generate further engagement.

As a result of commercial decisions taken on the back of the survey analysis, the CHL revealed today (Friday) that its digital media channels enjoyed double-digit percentage growth during the 2018-19 season. This included 83-per-cent year-on-year growth for the official YouTube channel and a 47-per-cent uplift for the Instagram account.

This helped to facilitate a sponsorship agreement with digital locking company iLoq as the Finnish company sought to engage primarily through digital channels. In addition, the 12,044 tickets for the 2019 final were sold out in a day, marking the fifth consecutive sell-out for the competition’s showpiece game.

Baumann also today raised the possibility of a title sponsor being secured for the league. German workwear firm Engelbert Strauss has been the presenting sponsor since 2014.

Baumann stated: “I would love to [have a title sponsor] but it has to fit in many aspects, including the ethical aspect. But as soon as we find one and if there’s a perfect match then I would go that way. We were discussing that this year for the first time.”

“We are quite happy with Engelbert Strauss but if they wanted to lift it up to the next level then we are more than prepared.”

Asked about the notion of one day staging games outside Europe to create more awareness for the competition internationally, he replied: “We try to be very innovative. It would depend on what kind of title or main sponsor you have. We could easily do a game abroad with such a sponsor.”

“But in general our focus is in Europe. We’d rather have an NHL team or a KHL team playing here in Europe against us. Even there we are flexible. It’s not easy, it’s maybe a vision for us and let’s see. If we find a sponsor from the US market, [then] why not? I’m really open on that side, for sure.”