Monday, May 2nd, 2016

The NHL and the Olympics


According to Bill Daly the NHL will make a decision about whether the league will participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics within the next six months. The early indications seem negative. Comments from league insiders are decidedly unenthusiastic about Korea.

I believe this is probably a negotiating tactic because the clowns who run the NHL are greedy (beyond imagination) but they are not stupid. They see the pot of money Olympic hockey generates and they think they deserve a share. The IOC isn’t willing to pay anything beyond injury insurance and expenses because NHL participation probably does not have a very significant impact on overall Olympic revenues. It would be nice if the NHL just folded and committed to the Olympics forever but we won’t be that lucky. Instead the NHL will play hard to get every cycle, trying to jerk something more out of the IOC. At the end of each day, however, the league will go along.

Why? Because anything else would be stupid. The NHL argument parroted by every NHL executive these days goes something like “Its great, but I don’t see how the NHL benefits enough to shut down the season for it especially when the games are overseas. Plus injuries…”

Nonsense. It is easy to see how the NHL benefits. Despite a poisonous labour relations climate, two employer strikes and a persistent quality of entertainment problem, revenues have shot up since 1998. It is difficult to decide how much of that increase to attribute to participation in the Olympics, but it isn’t too hard to figure out that Canadians contributed far more than their fair share of that growth. And it is easy to see that the Olympics is an event that is guaranteed to rekindle the Canadian love affair with hockey every four years.

At 4:00 AM on Sunday morning, I was looking out my kitchen window while drinking my coffee and waiting for the game to start. Across the street a neighbour’s light suddenly went on. Over the next few minutes, lights popped on up and down the street. After the game, the entire country celebrated a bunch of NHL stars (who mostly play in American cities) as national heroes.

Even if the NHL brass chooses to ignore the value of that and chooses to discount the effect on NHL revenues, they have to consider the alternative if they do not participate. They might be able to get away with it if the IOC agreed to limit Men’s hockey to Junior players, but the IOC won’t agree to that. Why should they? All the countries except Canada and the United States would have a much improved chance of winning if the NHL dropped out. Neither Canada or the United States could ice a competitive team.

Nobody in Canada would get up in the middle of the night. No street celebration. No rekindled love affair with the game. No warm feelings for the NHL and NHL stars. Most Canadians would do their best to ignore the hockey but it will prove impossible. Instead of capping the Olympics, Men’s hockey will cast a pall over the entire experience.

Whether it is fair or not, the league will carry the can for it. They have to expect a backlash. Instead of endless debates about the team roster, there will be endless complaints about the decision to back out. It isn’t hard to imagine someone trying to organise a boycott of the NHL for the duration of the games. There will be actual anger towards the league, an anger that will not be assuaged by an NHL sponsored World Cup.

The choice is simple. Put up with the inconvenience once every four years and gain (if only indirectly) when Canadian nationalism genuinely does intersect with hockey. Or avoid the inconvenience and incur the wrath of their biggest customers.

For smart people, that’s an easy call.

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8 Responses to “The NHL and the Olympics”
  1. Mr Lewis says:

    Missed you…

  2. DS says:

    I don’t disagree with anything you say here.

    Though if the NHL doesn’t go to Korea, I kinda have the image of Canada dropping the mic and walking out after this performance….

  3. James Mirtle says:

    I actually think they’ll go. The players have a say here and you can’t overstate how badly they want to be there.

    • Tom says:

      I think they will go too, but I don’t think the players have any clout. They could put the kibosh on it – they never would – but they can’t force the owners to shut down and let them go. The player’s role is mostly to let everybody know that if the NHL backs out it is all because of the owners.

      I can remember hearing Linden on the radio before Nagano and he said that he thought the league was in it forever. Once they start, he said, it will be very difficult to stop. I think he is turning out to be right. After five Olympics, I think it is impossible.

      The league does not like it, but I don’t think we can overstate how badly Canadians – fans and nonfans alike – want them to go. I don’t think we can even understand how badly we want that until the league actually bails and we see the backlash unfold before and during the games.

      Gary Bettman is going to be responsible for turning the clock back to the days when we iced a National team led by Fran Huck? Could we beat Latvia? Its unthinkable. Bettman wants more cash but he’s going anyway. Unfortunately for him, I think the IOC knows he’s going anyway, and they won’t put up more cash.

    • beingbobbyorr says:

      If — as is often reported — the players really use Olympic participation as a bargaining chip in all the recent CBA negotiations (i.e., those 2-weeks-every-4-years-for-15%-of-NHLPA-membership partially mollifies them as they abdicate yet another 7-10% of NHL revenues), then they’re demonstrating a degree of stupidity so indefensible that I will feel no guilt when I switch allegiances to the owners during the next lockout.

      • Tom says:

        I don’t believe that there is a tradeoff here for money. I never did. In any case, it is now moot. There is going to be two Olympic games played before the next negotiations. If the league does go over the next two Olympics they will go forever. If they don’t go, they won’t ever go again.

        I think they go because it is good business to go. Their reluctance is about the (forlorn) hope they can get the IOC to put up more money.

  4. beingbobbyorr says:

    It would be nice if the NHL just folded and committed to the Olympics forever but we won’t be that lucky.

    It’s never a good idea to commit to any institution or individual forever (because you can’t guarantee how they’ll change in the future, possibly against your interests).

    . . . two employer strikes . . .

    I count three:


    It isn’t hard to imagine someone trying to organise a boycott of the NHL for the duration of the games. . . There will be actual anger towards the league, . . .

    Oh, please, Tom. This is ludicrous.

    a) If nobody could organize boycotts of the NHL to punish the owners for lockout seasons (the willful denial of their actual product), then nobody is boycotting the NHL for failing to help the Olympics (someone else’s product), which, in case anyone needs reminding, are a blink-and-you’ll-miss-them 2 weeks in duration. Add the short attention span of the masses to that equation, and you have . . . nothing. If the never-ending string of Bettman lockouts has taught us anything, it’s that hockey fans are grade-A masochists, and Gary hasn’t even begun to push the envelope of what abuse they’ll take before closing their wallets.

    b) None of the OLY disappointments of 1998 and 2006 — nor the century’s worth of pre-1998 “amateur” impediments to OLY success — ever dampened Canadian enthusiasm for hockey.

    Canadians will get by without NHL participation in the Olympics, because Canadians have gotten by without NHL participation in the Olympics.


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  1. […] The NHL needs to keep going to the Olympics, if only to rekindle Canada’s love affair with hockey every four years. [Tom Benjamin] […]

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