West Coast Post: Why Luc Robitaille would support a relaunched World Cup of Hockey

26 November 2014 | Posted in SportsPro Blog | By Ian McPherson | Contact the author

West Coast Post: Why Luc Robitaille would support a relaunched World Cup of Hockey

With the National Hockey League (NHL) expected to relaunch the World Cup of Hockey in 2016, SportsPro caught up with NHL Hall of Famer and Los Angeles Kings president of business operations, Luc Robitaille, to get his thoughts on the proposed reboot.

Pitting the best against the best has to be the objective for any elite sport and in ice hockey that has not happened on a global scale since 2004. The NHL-run World Cup of Hockey ran twice - in 1996, ahead of the 1998 Winter Olympics, and in 2004 - and could well make a comeback in 2016. But a number of details still need to be hammered out before the international tournament, which was last won by Canada, can return. Still, that has not stopped industry experts speculating that the tournament could generate over US$100 million in revenue for the NHL.

And commissioner Gary Bettman, whose frustrations with the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) media and marketing regulations make rebooting the lucrative World Cup of Hockey all the more appealing, has spoken publicly about the likelihood of the tournament rebooting. “My hope and expectation is that, in the not too distant future, we are in a position to announce that yes we are going to do a World Cup,” said Bettman in September this year.

“When it’s the World Cup it should be the best players of every country.”

Exactly how the tournament looks, where it is held and who participates remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: there is currently no international competition which fits neatly alongside the NHL season and draws the world’s best talent.

“The game is being played in Europe already but if there is an opportunity to play a World Cup there we think it could be absolutely amazing,” says Robitaille at the Staples Center in Los Angeles during an interview in October. “We played a game in Berlin and we saw the crowd, we played in London and we saw the kind of crowd there can be, we went to Sweden and saw what it could be. To have the opportunity to have a World Cup there, we think it could be amazing. After that I think we could worry about growing the revenue but first it should be about the growth of the game. There’s so much demand there.

“If you have an opportunity to do a real World Cup, it could be one year in North America, another year in Europe. When it’s the World Cup it should be the best players of every country. That’s a real World Cup. If we have an opportunity to build that over, say, 12 years, over three or four tournaments, I think it will build momentum and it could be something pretty special.”

In terms of format, Robitaille points to the Fifa World Cup as an appropriate model to follow, albeit on a smaller scale. “I think the soccer model is a great model where you have a round robin and then every game is a do or die game. We could probably have less teams. It could probably be eight teams, a little round robin and then after that the top two or four meet. Obviously for a few years Russia and maybe Sweden and Canada could be good but over a few years there could be other countries coming in that could be dangerous.”

“There’s a lot of talk about it being somewhere back east, probably Toronto or Montreal.”

For Robitaille, one of the biggest decisions to make is who should play host. “We would be able to host it for sure,” he says when asked if the Staples Center would make a good venue for the tournament. “I’m not sure we’re the prime area to host it at first. I think our fans would love it, they’d jump all over it.

“It could be played here, especially with the growth of the game here now, you look at Anaheim and even Ontario; we could play here. But I think for the first few years… there’s a lot of talk about it being somewhere back east, probably Toronto or Montreal and then I think the next time should be in a city like London or Berlin. Then if by the third or fourth time it comes over here, yes, there’d be no doubt that everyone here would jump on board with that.”

Ian McPherson is SportsPro’s US correspondent based in Los Angeles. Get in touch by email imcpherson@sportspromedia.com or Twitter: @iomcpherson

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