Well, it’s finally official: The National Hockey League will not be going to the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. This momentous decision came after years of hand-wringing and consternation from the league over the unimaginable hardships it has to endure sending its best players to bring their very niche, regional sport to the world’s biggest stage. There are just so many people to thank for this:
The International Olympic Committee
In withdrawing funding for the NHL players, the IOC committed to treating all of the organisations that contribute athletes to the Games equally. Yes, this is the same organisation whose demands of a host city include customised furniture, closing local schools, and the provision of cars, drivers and separate lanes for exclusive IOC use. The consistent push for equality from the IOC is heartening in this day and age of organisations who are as spineless as they are corrupt and entitled. Well done.
Also, the IOC’s decision underscores their superb marketing savvy. Not only do they have to contend with being a near-universally admonished institution, they have elected to do away with one of the biggest draws of their whole event. After all, who wants to see Sidney Crosby centring Steven Stamkos and Connor McDavid? Nahh, nobody wants that. Bringing the Olympics closer to its roots showcasing amateur talent will undoubtedly boost ratings far above what could ever be achieved by putting the best players in the world on display.
And profit-sharing? Forget about it. Entities shouldn’t be profiting from the Olympics. Neither should host cities/countries. Only the Olympics should profit from the Olympics. Why is that so hard to understand?
The National Hockey League
South Korea is apparently not a market that is a priority for the NHL, and I couldn’t agree more. What kind of league would want to reach out to a new, untapped market of 50 million people? And what kind of league would want to make inroads in a region of the world with over 1.5 billion people? I mean, come on, it’s not like previous Olympics have led to growing the game or anything.
And hey, after skipping 2018, you can definitely just return to the Olympics in 2022. ’cause that’s how relationships work. Come on, we all know the IOC is just playing hard-to-get here. And, in 2022, the Games will be in China, a market of over one billion people that the NHL is actually interested in. Nothing like being the first of your kind to establish a foothold and market share in a brand new market. The NHL can afford to take its time.
The Chinese market probably won’t even know PyeongChang is going on. Why, the way some people talk about it, it’s almost as though they think China is right next to South Korea or something. Madness!
After all, this is a league that knows about marketing. The is the league that had three lockouts in under two decades – with a fourth not so far down the road. This is the league that commissioned a custom set of superheroes that including the sap bomb-tossing Maple Leaf. This is the league that has decided to do away with third jerseys next season. If the league contends that Olympic participation isn’t good marketing, we should absolutely defer to their expertise.
To be fair, the NHL did make the effort. The league dangled the prospect of Olympic participation in front of the players in exchange for extending the current collective bargaining agreement. Never mind that the current CBA is already heavily tilted in favour of the league and ownership; we’ll gloss over that. Surely this whole situation will have no bearing whatsoever on the upcoming CBA negotiations. Actually, you know what? Besides, the lockouts weren’t really so bad.
And the NHL will be completely right to suspend any players that disobey orders and go to the Olympics anyway, ’cause lets keep superstars off the ice even longer, right??
I am sure NBC, the Olympic rightsholder in the United States that has paid billions for the privilege of broadcasting the event, will be thrilled with the NHL’s decision not to go to South Korea. NBC’s broadcast contract with the NHL is up soon afterwards, but I cannot foresee any problems whatsoever in that negotiation.
NBC is going to be issuing a statement soon. From a source, they’re not happy, but NHL doesn’t see any material change in relationship.
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) April 3, 2017
The NHL Owners
It cannot be refuted that shutting down the NHL season for the better part of three weeks is detrimental to NHL owners. After all, they don’t make any money at all during that time! It’s not as though they lost games will be made up later, or anything.
Furthermore, Olympic participation unnecessarily compresses the NHL schedule and leads to more fatigue and injuries. What kind of irresponsible owners would release players for a tournament that has nothing to do with their team and will reduce the quality of regular season play? That’ll never happen.
Insurance for these owners’ irreplaceable assets is a big deal, make no mistake. It’s a shame that no organisation stepped up to cover the costs that the IOC shirked this time around.
We all know shutting down the NHL season is disastrous. That’s why, outside of the pesky Olympics, the owners have only done it 3 times since 1994. Only 2,208 games worth of revenue (not to mention 525 days worth of fan interest) lost. Basically nothing.
Besides, why market your assets outside of your team’s home city? That’s preposterous. And it’s not as though the players the owners bar from attending have any leverage. If Sidney Crosby decides to go? Screw him, terminate his contract. No one will want to pick him up after that. Connor McDavid? Get outta here. He’ll only be able to find work over in Russia. Erik Karlsson stepped out on you? Well, you’ll just have to trade him.
Punishing superstar players will not cripple teams at all. Unlike that three-week break in the middle of a grueling 82-game schedule that the majority of players will get, which is unquestionably detrimental on all levels.
Reward and Recognition
So, in closing, congratulations to all parties involved on a deal well done. I know, in my heart of hearts, that all sides had the fans in mind when negotiating this agreement. After all, what kind of sick individual would want to see the best hockey the world has to offer? Thank-you IOC, NHL and NHL owners for saving us from this lunacy.
Peter Ferrell covers the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs, with a side of jersey and logo (over)analysis, for The Hockey Writers.