Archive for the ‘Olympics’ Category

Will we see the NHL in South Korea?

February 23, 2014

Once again, it will boil down to the ever present sides: The league and the owners clashing with the players.

For the league and owners: Sending the players over to Nagano in 1998 (the first games that ever included NHL players) was a business decision. Hockey needed something to bring in more fans, and exposing the NHL’s best to the world on the Olympic Stage was a great opportunity to do this.

Now, here we are 16 years later and it is a different landscape for the NHL: A $2 billion dollar TV contract with NBC through the 2020-2021 season in the US, a $5.2 billion contract with Rogers in Canada through 2025, outselling the NBA in shared arenas, and a league that once again has stars who have become household names.

Where is the benefit to the league and owners at this point? The exposure is useless, and in fact the only exposure becomes negative: players exposed to injury. Just ask Garth Snow how he is feeling about that. Before the Olympics, the Isles playoff hopes were on life support. Now? Well, Vanek should probably just start packing his bags. While the NHL and owners (and players, albeit more willingly) are the ones putting themselves at risk, it is the IOC that feasts off the revenue and profits. As someone who literally watched only the hockey at the Olympics (And I am surely not the only one), were the NHL players to have stayed home with the league operating, I would have been happily watching each and every Devils game that was played. And the Pens fans would have watch the Pens. And the Rangers fans would have watched the Rangers etc, etc. There is no symbiosis here: The IOC is a parasite in this relationship.

On the other hand, you have the players, who understandably take a great deal of pride in not only playing for their countries, but also relish the opportunity to be able to play hockey the way they first played it: as a game. At home in the NHL, they are still playing the game, but it is also their job which surely at times hinders their enjoyment of the game. For 2 weeks, yes, they are NHL players, but they are part of a greater team. Can you imagine what it felt like for Anze Kopitar, the sole NHL player on the Slovenian team, banding together with his countrymen in a truly stunning upset of Slovakia, or their early loss to Russia where they hung in there? I honestly cannot. That is an experience you simply cannot manufacture.

Business vs Sentiment. As a fan, I vote sentiment. The Olympics provided entertaining, high level hockey with some surprises and ups, downs, and disappointments (Russia and the USA both failing to medal? I am glad I am not a gambling man, because I would have told you no way that happens), but showed us just how passionate these guys are about their sport and representing their countries, and just how crushing one defeat can be. Did you see the bronze medal game?

I fear business may overtake sentiment here however. It is Gary Bettman’s responsibility to make prudent decisions regarding the league’s asset, and from a purely business perspective, I would agree that the right decision would be to keep the players home. But is the league ready to deal with the massive backlash from the fans and players if such a decision is made?

Stay tuned. The IOC is also watching intently.

Tell me what you think in the poll below or the comments section!