The KHL Is Expanding to Emerging Hockey Market China

Russian-based KHL will add a team in Beijing for September 2016.

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Dec 15 2015, 5:56pm

This story originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.

China is going to get a dose of high-level professional hockey starting next season. The Russian-based KHL, one of the top hockey leagues in the world, is adding a team in China for September 2016. The club, which will be financed by Russian and Chinese businesses, will be situated in Beijing, the host city for the 2022 Olympics.

The team will play out of the same arena as the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball Association. This is all part of a bigger plan to grow hockey in the world's most populous country.

"The task is to build a hockey vertical: a KHL team, a second team playing in the Chinese league, a team in the youth league and mass involvement so that all who wish can play ice hockey," said KHL deputy chairman Roman Rotenberg. "There should be more ice rinks that are public and open for all. This is a priority task."

Hockey's popularity in China is rising, but it remains far from a hot spot. Still, some numbers reveal there's interest. There were 120 million people in China who watched the 2014 Sochi gold medal game between Canada and Sweden. The following year, the New York Islanders selected Andong Song in the sixth round of the NHL entry draft, making him the first Chinese-born player to be drafted by an NHL team. China's state television broadcaster, CCTV, reported that 2.5 million people stayed up past midnight to watch Song get taken by the Islanders.

Song spoke to VICE Sports earlier this year about his country's growing interest in the game.

"When I was growing up, we rarely had hockey on TV and the community wasn't big," he said. "Now is a different story. They broadcast three or four games a week and there's more talk around hockey and rinks are being filled. Compared to before, it's categorical how much we've grown."

The Russian-based KHL has expanded outside of the country many times before. While 22 of the 28 clubs are located in Russia, the league also features teams in Croatia, Finland, Slovakia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Latvia.