Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson recently discussed the possibility of playing games in Europe. He would like his team to play in Paris, France, and is aiming to get the cross-Atlantic games scheduled for the 2025-26 season.
It wouldn’t be the first time the Habs played in Paris. They played a handful of games in the French capital back in 1938, part of a series that also featured the Detroit Red Wings.
The book I'm writing right now is about the 1938 Montreal Canadiens who travelled to Europe with the Detroit Red Wings, the first time NHL teams traveled to Europe. They played three games in Paris.
They were marketed as the "Canadiens Français de Montréal". https://t.co/1Lq2VoQ53W pic.twitter.com/6EtO3umJ3E
— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) December 5, 2023
It’s an interesting strategy, especially for a team like the Canadiens that is looking to improve their global reach.
Many soccer teams have already achieved global recognition, with a significant percentage of their merchandise sales coming from various countries, but as of this point, no hockey team has come close to reaching that level of international success.
Teams such as Arsenal, Manchester United, Barcelona, and Real Madrid, among others, often embark on ‘global tours’ that include exhibition games in places such as North America or Asia, in an attempt to secure their place as the most popular team in the region for decades to come.
We’ve also seen the NFL play games in Europe, most recently in London, at the stadium that was designed for a certain soccer team from North London that will forever be in Arsenal’s shadow.
With that in mind, this would be a much harder sell for the Canadiens, given that hockey is obviously not as popular as soccer. There are fewer than 20 thousand residents officially registered as hockey players in France. For reference, Canada has over half a million registered hockey players.
Regardless, it’s an interesting proposal. A franchise like the Montreal Canadiens has the marketing know-how and financial backing to give it a go. They also have a certain appeal that comes with being the most successful franchise in hockey history.
Given that the NHL has held outdoor games in places like Nashville, most would have expected the Canadiens to host their own outdoor event by now.
It’s not that they don’t want to play an outdoor game in Montreal.
In fact, the team would jump at the opportunity, and they’ve done their due diligence as to the options, but there are simply no good locations available in Montreal for an outdoor game that could hold close to 15 thousand fans.
The same can be said about a possible outdoor game in Paris.
However, there is one option for an NHL-calibre rink in the City of Light: the Accor Arena, also known as Bercy.
The arena is located in a multi-event complex that hosts some of the biggest concerts in Paris. It can hold up to 20,000 fans depending on the event.
It has hosted UFC events and NBA games in the past and will be a venue for the upcoming 2024 Summer Olympics.
Recently, the refurbished arena also co-hosted the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, which took place in Paris as well as Cologne, Germany.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) January 4, 2016
The final was attended by over 10,000 fans, with some reports suggesting the arena has the capacity for almost 14,000 people in attendance for a hockey game. Ideally, you’d want to get closer to regular NHL capacity while playing games overseas, but as previously mentioned, the acceptable options in Paris are few and far between.
Seeing as Molson only recently suggested the idea, we’re probably jumping the gun a little bit. The logistics involved in this type of venture are incredibly complicated.
But if the Montreal Canadiens do want to expand their international brand recognition, playing a handful of games in Paris could serve as a great starting point.