Unless you are from one of the mountainous countries in Europe or Canada, you may not be aware that the Ice Hockey World Championships conclude today in Slovakia.
The final pits Scandinavian rivals Sweden and Finland against each other at the end of a tournament involving the 16 best teams in the world and 17 days of competition.
There is a complication: the end of season play-offs are currently underway in the NHL, which means that some of the star players are not available. It is noticeable that Olympic finalists last year Canada and the USA were both knocked out in the quarter-finals in Slovakia.
Ice hockey is a very popular sport in a number of countries and one of the hottest tickets at the Olympic Winter Games yet its world championship struggles for global visibility. Of the 16 countries who qualified for this year’s event, 14 are from Europe, of which 11 have a population of 10m or less.
Climate, physical geography, culture, history and government support combine in unpredictable ways to determine which countries participate in which sports. While individuals can sometimes reach the top despite the lack of tradition in a particular sport in their country, in team sports it takes many years for also-rans to become serious contenders. As a result, few team sports can claim to be global.
A comparison of the teams who have qualified for the Ice Hockey World Championships with other sports events demonstrates this point. Canada is the only country which is competing in the ice hockey which also qualified for the recent Cricket World Cup involving 14 nations. Canada, France, Russia and the USA are competing in both the ice hockey and the 20 team Rugby World Cup later in the year but of these only France is currently in the top 10 in the rugby world rankings.
In all that makes 50 qualification spots in three of the major team sport events this year which have been filled by 40 different countries. The major markets not involved in any of these events include China, Brazil, Spain and Korea.
For sponsor brands which value an association with sport and are global (or wish to be), the limited reach of specific sports presents challenges. The FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games offer the broadest international audience but for a high price. Almost any other international sponsorship asset will be relevant in only a range of markets.
The ice hockey teams from Sweden and Finland deserve recognition for defeating the best that the rest of the world could offer but don’t expect South America, Asia or Africa to notice. While sport is global, most sports are not.