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NHL’s Threatened Pullout of the Olympics Could Put Sports Events on Ice in 2018

30 Nov, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Planners of Winter Sports Events Need to be Prepared

There just might be a different face on the Olympic hockey teams in 2018, thanks (or no thanks) to disagreements between the NHL and the IOC. And it’s something planners of winter sports events will need to be watching.

According to an article originally published in USA TODAY, the IOC unequivocally stated the NHL will have to pay transportation and insurance costs to send its players to PyeongChang, South Korea, for the 2018 Games. And that has the NHL rethinking whether it should.

The NHL has plenty of concerns, apart from money – many of which will be easily understood by sports planners:

  • Disruption: With the Olympics on, the NHL is forced to shut down. In 2014, play stopped between February 9-24 for the Sochi Games.

  • Financial Loss to Cities Fielding NHL Teams: Having key players out, and having the NHL on hiatus, has been shown to cause financial stress in affected markets, according to the NHL. In addition, they noted, fans can quickly grow out of the habit of attending games and just make the decision to catch them on TV when play resumes.

  • Injury: Every player at the Olympics is critical to his NHL team. In a parity league, an injury can be the difference between making or missing the playoffs. Failing to advance to the postseason can cost a franchise millions of dollars in lost revenue.

All told, there are plenty of viable reasons for the NHL to consider pulling the plug on its participation in the Olympics. And honestly, there are plenty of options to use other athletes, should countries wish to field a national team. In the U.S. alone, there are the American Hockey League (the NHL’s farm team), college hockey at both the NCAA and the American Collegiate Hockey Association levels, as well as junior leagues and those who play pond hockey at higher levels. There are also USA Hockey’s U-18 teams, which have done well. In other words, there’s no lack of players who could make up a national team for the U.S., if need be.

And those possibilities could lead to increased interest in other levels of hockey leading up to team selection time, since enthusiasts could start building the buzz about possible contenders for spots on Team USA.

All of this needs to concern sports planners, sports commissions and CVBs who work in cities where sheets of ice are used to host those non-NHL games. Without these players, will those teams be able to move forward? What will happen to the fans who normally attend those games? How quickly can competitive events be cancelled, and how soon can those sheets of ice be re-scheduled to host other events?

A recent meeting in New York between NHL officials, the International Ice Hockey Federation, USA Hockey, Hockey Canada and the NHL Players' Association could be viewed as the last chance to save the NHL relationship with the Olympics. No decision is expected to be reached until early January, but this meeting will offer insight into whether there should be any optimism.

According to USA TODAY, International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) IIHF President Rene Fasel “was expected to offer a financial plan to offset costs of sending NHL players, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting… But it is unknown whether his plan is enough to bring the NHL back on board.”

Wooing the NHL to continue on with the Olympics is not going to be so easily done, particularly knowing that since 1998, the IOC has gained the benefit of league participation without incurring any cost.

According to an article in The Ringer, “the NHL insists that even when hockey gets nominal buzz during the Olympics, the league doesn’t see much of a lasting financial boost. In contrast, the NHL is said to have netted an estimated $65 million from this latest World Cup of Hockey, which is a whole lotta commemorative melted ice.”

But compared to the Olympics (a big stage where millions who don’t normally watch a sport will tune in), the World Cup of Hockey isn’t quite as attractive from a publicity standpoint. Look for this issue to continue developing.

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