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.