“As things stand now people should assume we are not going.”
Those were the words of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday, referring to the increasing doubt that the best players in the world from his league will participate in the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
The NHL isn’t pleased with the IOC, and they have a legitimate gripe.
A change in IOC policy means that player insurance, transportation costs, and accommodation – valued at $15-20 million according to Bettman – will no longer be covered, as they have been in previous Olympics with NHL participation. IIHF president Rene Fasel has said that his organization will step up to pay the costs, although Bettman is skeptical.
“I think the most likely thing is the International Ice Hockey Federation will come in and say ‘we’re going to do it on a pared-down basis,'” Bettman said back in November.
Bettman has suggested that the IOC should treat the NHL like a top sponsor. They also want to be able to promote the Olympic hockey tournament on their platforms, something that on the surface appears that it would help everyone.
With so much at stake for the NHL, IIHF, and Olympic hockey tournament, you’d think that there’s a deal to be made.
“There are no negotiations ongoing,” Bettman said on Tuesday. “We were open to having discussions on a variety of things that might mitigate the damage to our season but that had no resonance.”
With just 323 days before they light the cauldron in Korea, time is running out.
As a hockey fan, you have to hope that Bettman is using this as a negotiation tactic, simply trying to cut the best deal possible for his organization by working to a deadline. But should we really doubt that Bettman, the same man who has overseen countless work stoppages, would pull the NHL from the 2018 Games?
I think you know the answer.
The NHL is said to be keen to participate in the Beijing 2022 Olympics, given the exposure to the potentially lucrative Chinese market. They likely don’t view PyeongChang with as much enthusiasm, but they’d be wise not to ignore the benefits a tournament in Korea brings.
While I agree with most of Bettman’s concerns, the fact of the matter is that the NHL needs the Olympics more than the Olympics need them.
How much does the IOC really care if the hockey tournament is void of NHL players? Just a guess, but I think they’ll survive.
The NHL will survive too, of course, but growing the sport of hockey globally has a clear positive affect on them. It’s hard to quantify obviously, but raising the profile of the Olympic tournament with NHL players has to be good for the bottom line.
Sure, the NHL has to go dark for 16 days, but the league ought to take wide view.
The World Baseball Classic has been met with mostly groans from sports fans in the United States, and that’s after four editions of it. The NHL tried a similar approach with the World Cup of Hockey in September, with similar reviews.
The World Cup of Hockey is also a lesson on ignoring the importance of consistency (ie. holding a tournament every four years) by the way.
On the other side of the coin is the NBA, that has sent players to the Olympics since 1992. The result has been a boom in the popularity of the sport globally. That has resulted in a huge increase in international players in their league, plus an increase in revenue from television and merchandise sales overseas.
If the NHL ever wants to matter globally, they need the Olympics.
There’s still time left for a deal to be worked out – the NHL agreed to participate in the 2014 Games in July 2013 – but for the sake of everyone, I hope the league comes to realize what the Olympics really mean. At some point it’s time to swallow your pride, and accept the best deal possible for the sake of the fans, the players, and yes, the league too.