NHL will look at Mexico as next phase of expanding Latino fan base


Over the final three many years, the NHL’s enlargement into the American Sun Belt has served to diversify the league’s geography and fan profile. Markets with excessive Latino populations such as Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth and Miami have reaped the advantages.

Now, the league is poised to make its next bold leap: Mexico.

“I was saying a couple years ago, ‘How cool would it be to just play an exhibition game in Mexico City?'” Toronto Maple Leafs star middle Auston Matthews, who’s of Mexican heritage, lately informed ESPN. “It’d be awesome to literally play a hockey game in Mexico and just see what happens.”

The thought of full-fledged enlargement past the United States and Canada stays far-fetched, however the NHL is in search of to comply with within the footsteps of different North American leagues by expanding exterior of its conventional fan base. Additionally, the thought of taking part in both a preseason or regular-season sport in Mexico is selecting up steam within the highest reaches of the league workplace.

“We had started hearing from our clubs that they’d love to play a game in Mexico,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly stated. “The more we can appeal to more demographics, countries and culturally diverse areas, the better it is for us.”

There are practically 130 million folks dwelling in Mexico, making it the Tenth-most populated nation on this planet and second largest in Latin America behind Brazil’s 212 million. In 2019 alone, Mexico City hosted occasions such as the PGA Tour, the NBA, the NFL, UFC and Formula 1. In the northern metropolis of Monterrey, Major League Baseball arrange store with six video games that very same 12 months. Only the onset of COVID-19 has curbed the nation’s momentum in attracting these leagues.

To higher interact followers, the leagues performed most of these occasions that includes athletes who both have been Mexican nationals or had Mexican heritage. For occasion, the NBA marketed a regular-season 2019 sellout in Mexico City between the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs round Suns capturing guard Devin Booker, whose mom is Mexican American. Just a number of weeks prior, cornerback Michael Davis of the Los Angeles Chargers proudly informed ESPN of spending childhood summers south of the border together with his mom, Mexico City native Ana Martinez, within the lead-up to the sport towards the Kansas City Chiefs. By kickoff for that Monday Night Football matchup, Davis was already well-known amongst followers at Estadio Azteca.

Enter Matthews, final season’s prime objective scorer whom the NHL can boast as one of its largest stars regardless of heritage — his mom, Ema, hails from the Mexican state of Sonora. The four-time All-Star additionally grew up within the southwestern U.S. and has a want to deliver the game he loves nearer to his roots.

“My background, with my mom being Mexican, I’m really proud of where I come from and my heritage,” Matthews stated. “Obviously, we’d be traveling quite a ways and it’d be a lot for a preseason game, but I don’t know, that was the first thing that came to mind when somebody brought this kind of topic up to me.”

Any sort of NHL sport in Mexico would symbolize a large stride in his league’s effort to succeed in Latino followers normally. The NHL debuted its Spanish-language web site simply two years in the past and celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month for the primary time in 2020. Within the league itself, particular person golf equipment have taken up efforts to attach with Spanish-speaking followers within the U.S. and past.

The Dallas Stars, who relocated from Minnesota in 1993, held clinics in 2019 for youngsters as younger as 4 in Mexico City. More lately, the Stars employed retired goalie Al Montoya, the primary Cuban American participant within the NHL, as their director of group outreach with the particular objective of participating potential Latino followers. “You can’t reach us without us,” Montoya stated. “Representation is everything. I didn’t see anyone like me growing up.”

Among his continued efforts to recruit followers, Montoya attended an exhibition soccer sport final September at Dallas’ Cotton Bowl that includes Mexico’s two hottest groups — Club America and Chivas de Guadalajara. At the sport, which attracted practically 50,000 folks, Montoya unfold the gospel of hockey within the parking zone exterior the stadium. Armed with free tickets for many who signed up, Montoya registered a whole lot of new followers in a single afternoon.

“That was fantastic,” Montoya stated. “People have so many [entertainment] options nowadays. We have to stop relying on people wanting to choose hockey on their own. We have to go to where they are.”

Similarly, the Los Angeles Kings have prolonged efforts to Latino-heavy communities in Southern California and past. In September of final 12 months, the group held digital studying periods with children in Mexico City, following up on an in-person camp they held there in 2018.

The Kings are additionally amongst a small group of NHL franchises that make use of a Spanish-language radio broadcast group. One of these groups, the Arizona Coyotes (who relocated from Winnipeg, Canada, in 1996), made historical past in 2019 when Alex Meruelo, a Cuban American govt, grew to become the primary individual of Latino descent to grow to be majority proprietor of an NHL franchise. Meruelo subsequently employed Xavier Gutierrez, born in Guadalajara, Mexico, to be the Coyote’s — and the league’s — first Latino CEO.

Gutierrez himself touted the likelihood of bringing the NHL to Mexico sooner slightly than later in a 2020 interview with ESPN.

“That’s something we need to look into,” Gutierrez stated. “It would be great to bring hockey to Mexico in some way.”

Significant hurdles stay towards that finish, together with the logistics of internet hosting. A big-scale area devoted to hockey doesn’t at present exist in Mexico.

“The facility is the most important. We need to have a facility that can accommodate an NHL game. An ice rink, in Mexico — that’s somewhat foreign to their arenas,” Daly stated.

Should a facility finally meeet NHL requirements, such a venue would must be situated in a super market that may draw applicable curiosity. With a metro inhabitants of nearly 22 million, Mexico City is an apparent candidate. Cities such as Monterrey (5.3 million) and Guadalajara (5.2 million) is also thought-about. The NHL is conducting analysis on venues and areas, Daly stated.

A sport in Mexico would most actually must contain some mixture of Matthews and the Coyotes, Kings, Stars or another franchise with a relatable bond to the Latino group. The alternative for followers of all ages to root for one of their very own can’t be discounted.

“We have to tell these players’ stories, it’s on us,” Montoya stated. “If we do, people will show up. Latinos support Latinos.”

ESPN NHL reporter Emily Kaplan contributed to this report.

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