GREGORY BENNETT WRITES — Declining popularity, teams that fold and a lack of funds are common barriers to ice hockey in Asia. Today, the Asia League Ice Hockey (ALIH) is the only national league in Asia with eight different teams. Five of these teams are located in Japan, two are in South Korea, and one is in Russia. If it seems like a small number of teams for a league to operate on, especially to a person who knows little about sports… you are right.
Prior to the advent of the Asia League Ice Hockey in 2003, there were two other leagues in Asia: the Japan Ice Hockey League and the Korean Ice Hockey League, which were overtaken by the Asia League Ice Hockey, then folded due to the lack of popularity within those borders. As the ALIH first took the ice in 2003, it had a vision and goal of “promoting hockey and developing players’ skills.” Its inaugural season had five teams in two different countries in 2003, then rose to nine teams in four countries during the 2005-2006 season. Sadly, this increase in player interest soon dropped to eight teams in three countries.
Most people are familiar with the National Hockey League in the United States, with its thirty-one established teams, thanks to many years of interest, revenue and team creation in both the US and Canada.
Now, why can’t this happen with the ALIH?
The Japan Ice Hockey League, established in 1966, ended in 2004 due to a lack of interest over the years. Additionally, the Korean Ice Hockey League lasted from 1994-2004 but also folded because of a declining fan base.
So will the ALIH, so new and small scale, be able to survive longer than the leagues in both Japan and Korea?
Maybe. With ice hockey such a large-scale sport in most European countries, as well as in America and Canada, there should be an overflow into different countries seeking professional sports and public interest.
If the ALIH doesn’t expand and gain revenue, it may be frozen out of the global hockey arena.