“We want to show the other side of the Russian players to the Russian fan base,” Proper said. “I think that’s always been something that’s been difficult for us to convey because it’s usually just the games that are being distributed. Yandex has certainly expressed a commitment to kind of, for lack of a better way to put it, take the helmets off and let people get to really know [Washington captain Alex] Ovechkin or [Tampa Bay forward Nikita] Kucherov or [Lightning goaltender Andrei] Vasilevskiy or somebody like that.”
The deal continues the league’s push to make NHL games more accessible abroad. Last season, the league had a designated European Game of the Week for the first time, with an earlier North American puck drop to enable those games to be broadcast in prime time across Europe. The NHL also stages Global Series games, with the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers playing their season opener in Prague after completing their training camps in Switzerland and Germany, respectively. The Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning also are set to play a pair of regular-season games in Stockholm in November.
It’s the third straight season the NHL has played regular-season games in Europe. Before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals in May, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that while the league won’t be bringing any games to China this year, “we’re going to really ramp up our presence there. … We’re going to continue to invest in grass roots, in school programs … [to] continue to fuel the growth of youth hockey in China.” Ovechkin visited there as an NHL player ambassador in early August.
Proper said Russia consistently has rated as the NHL’s top market for European viewership, and Russian NHL players rank among the most-searched athletes on Yandex.
“They’re certainly one of the most well-known digital brands in Russia, if not the world, so so we were pretty flattered when they were interested in the first place,” Proper said. “Their reach and the scope of use by the Russian fan base and Russian Community and their commitment to our game will have exponential effects on the ability to for us to grow our brand.”