On and Off the Ice: Nairobi’s Ice Hockey Lions Roar From a Small Rink

Nairobi City not only has lions in the wild but also the Kenya Ice Lions, the only ice hockey team in East and Central Africa.

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Kenya Ice Lions
Photo Credit: mprnews.org

The global Sports Market was about USD500 billion in 2018 and it is growing at over 4 percent per year. With this projection, the industry will hit the USD600 billion mark in just a couple of years consequently presenting a lot of opportunities for business. The biggest sports continue to be football (soccer), however, there is an increased interest in other different sports. One area that might be surprising for Kenyans is a sport that is popular in the Northern Hemisphere and involves ice and cold weather. That is ice hockey. While field hockey has had a long tradition in East Africa, ice hockey is relatively a new sport to the region – for obvious reasons. Is there an opportunity for ice hockey? Yes, there is. Kenya has its own ice hockey team, dubbed the Kenya Lions that regularly hold practice, and play at a small ice rink at Nairobi’s Panari Hotel.

The rise of Kenya Ice Hockey Lions

Panari Hotel’s rink is the only indoor ice surface in East and Central Africa. Ice Hockey was introduced in Kenya when a few students from the University of Manitoba in Canada visited the country for research in 2006. They discovered that there was an ice rink and the next time they visited, they brought equipment, introduced a bunch of guys to the sport and trained them, and formed a team.

Since then, the team has been growing and now boasts of about 25 players. What is interesting is that the team has established a prospecting training facility at a parking lot in Nairobi’s downtown where they train for about 4-8 hours on weekends. It operates sort of like a “farm system” for Kenya’s ice hockey team. The conduct hockey training and practice but on rollerblades (roller hockey), to kids and young players who are interested in playing ice hockey at a higher level. This nursery club holds immense potential to grow the sport in the East African nation and set up the Kenya Lions team for great success as it serves to properly scout, draft, and develop future players.

In the recent past, Kenya Lions are in the process of registering the Kenya Federation of Ice Sports, which will not only help the ice hockey sport but also other ice sports such as Figure Skating and Speed Skating. The establishment of this federation will make Kenya eligible to apply for membership at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). Should Kenya successfully jump the bureaucratic hoops and be approved to join the IIHF, they will join Algeria, Morocco, and South Africa as the only IIHF members on the continent.

Canada is famous for ice hockey, and it is therefore fitting that the number one brand in the country is a donut and coffee franchise that is named after a former professional hockey player, Tim Hortons. As a major sponsor of hockey, Tim Hortons became involved in a program to bring the Nairobi Lions to Canada and donated USD22,500 and some equipment. Tim Hortons also flew 12 members of the national team to Canada to play their first-ever game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They later created a video about Kenya’s ice hockey featuring Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon that went viral on social media. After becoming a social media sensation, the Kenyan team attracted a lot of international attention. This led to them receiving a donation of USD10000 from North Park Hockey, a nonprofit ice hockey team in New York. The team used these funds to renovate their lockers and pay for ice time at the rink. Capitalizing on this spotlight, the Lions were also able to travel to Pyeongchang for the 2018 Olympics. The Lions also grabbed the attention of China-based Alibaba group who ran an ad during the 2018 Olympics which featured the Ice Lions.

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Ice sports business potential in Africa

From the look of things, investing in ice sports could be a great avenue for business people in Africa, as Africa could be the only remaining destination for ice sports. Well, the enthusiasm for the sport is low but clearly, its potential is not lacking on the continent. Even with limited resources, the Kenya Ice Hockey team has become a huge success. The same can be implemented around the continent on a professional and commercial scale.

Potential lies in starting ice hockey clubs and instruction business. If you are diligent about finding success in this business, you should leverage the business strategies of leading hockey clubs in the world. This will help you to rapidly propel your business into a success. As an entrepreneur, you can also consider franchising as this will allow you to skip the long process of growing a startup. Opting for a franchise in lieu of doing everything yourself is an easy way to shoot up in your business. There also lies potential in establishing and building sports stadia and indoor arenas for ice sports which can be commercialized.

In a Nutshell

From ice hockey being introduced to Kenya in 2006 to the Keyan Lions playing their first-ever game to becoming social media sensations, there is no shortage of opinion among city residents, government officials, and business leaders. With the odds being in favor of the Kenya Lions, it’s natural that smart business leaders and ice sports enthusiasts in Africa should pay closer attention to ice hockey and other ice sports.

As Kenya continues to weigh the economic merits of growing different sports in the future, they should also give a keen consideration to ice sports. The Kenya Lions will continue to grow but only with unwavering government support and creative marketing to become internationally recognized as the unique team that they are.


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