Canada hockey league says "Hello China" in NHL game

TORONTO, March 29 (Xinhua) -- In Toronto Maple Leafs' 4-2 loss to Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night, the National Hockey League (NHL) team and their advertising partners shared a series of special messages to viewers in China to acknowledge the rapid growth of hockey in the market.

During the first period of the game, eleven rinkboards (used for advertisement) at Air Canada Centre featured special messages in Chinese simplified to recognize the sports' recent popularity in China.

"The popularity of hockey continues to increase globally and we wanted a way to acknowledge the fast-growing audience in China and say thank you to the fans that have helped the sport grow in such an influential nation," said Dave Hopkinson, Maple Leafs sports & entertainment (MLSE) commercial officer.

Messages contained a company's name or simple Chinese characters such as "Hello China" were visible to the 20,070 capacity crowd and television viewers.

"We are fortunate to have like-minded partners that felt the same and wanted to participate," Hopkinson said.

The eleven partners that participated consists of local Canadian corporations and global multinational ones. Avis, BlackBerry, Casino Rama, Dairy Queen, Hero Certified Burgers, Purolator, MasterCard, Norton Rose Fulbright,, Scotiabank and Sun Life Financial all participated in the promotion.

During the first commercial break, Toronto announcer acknowledged the promotion to the fans and also mentioned that the game was being simulcast to viewers in China on CCTV5, the sports channel of China Central Television.

This NHL season is the first to be broadcasted in China. In total, 87 games will be broadcasted live in high-definition and replayed during prime time to account for the time zone difference.

To date, CCTV5 average 300,000 households watching the event during the live broadcast and an additional 450,000 to 600,000 households during the re-broadcast during 7 to 9 p.m.

Since last month's Winter Olympics in Sochi, the live audience numbers have spiked to 800,000 per households per game.

As the most valuable NHL franchise at 1.1 billion, Toronto Maple Leafs hopes to capitalize on the emerging Chinese market and replicate the global success of the NBA.

"It's no secret we're looking to grow the company," says Hopkinson. "Tim (Hopkinson's president and CEO) has challenged us to think globally."

Prior to the game, MLSE executive members flew to China to negotiate a partnership between the team and CCTV.

"Revenue and growth opportunities really are maxed out," says Hopkinson of the North American market. "This truly gives the Leafs a totally new market and can really increase the value of the brand because it's so accessible through digital technology."

Of the 87 games broadcasted in China, 12 feature the Maple Leafs. Saturday night's game against Detroit was the eleventh and final home game of the season to be shown on CCTV5.