Tuesday, April 4, 2017

NHL's Olympic decision disappointing but understandable

The National Hockey League has announced it won't break the 2017-18 season to allow its players participate in the Winter Olympics in February. This will be the first time since 1998 when the NHL players won't participate in the Olympics, ending the streak of five Winter Games with nations represented by their best players.

The Olympics in February have seen the players in a good form playing for their nations. The same can't be said about the World Cup of Hockey which is played in the preseason. However, the Olympic dates have been problematic for the NHL. With less than two months to the playoffs, a key player's injury from the Olympics can derail a team's Stanley Cup bid. Also, February is an important month for the NHL as the NFL season has ended and the MLB season hasn't started yet.

With NHL participation, the Olympics have been the best possible international tournament for hockey. The best players playing for their nations at an event as prestigious as the Olympics with global coverage. However the Olympics have not increased the NHL's viewership, making the league not willing to break the season.

The International Olympic Committee has previously paid the insurance and travel expenses of the NHL players in order to get them to the Olympics. A practice unique to hockey among Olympic sports, the IOC isn't willing to pay those expenses in 2018, making the NHL reluctant to have the Olympic break. The International Ice Hockey Federation offered to pay those fees, yet the NHL doesn't want to use IIHF's money for the Olympic participation but wants the IOC to pay for it. In addition to that, the NHL wanted additional monetary compensation from the IOC for the lose revenue during the Olympics. Alternatively the NHL would have liked the official Olympic partner status to use it for commercial purposes.

The NHL players want to play at the Olympics. The NHL has acknowledged that and offered the Olympic participation if the NHLPA eliminated the opt-out clause in the collective bargaining agreement, extending it to 2022. However the NHLPA didn't accept that.

NHL has all the rights to ask for compensation for its players Olympic participation. While the ideal of the Olympics is a festival of sports without business interests, the reality is different. The IOC may officially be a nonprofit organization but it's a huge business, and probably second only to the FIFA in most corrupt major sports organizations. Why should the NHL sacrifice their own business interests to support an event that generates money for the IOC? The NHL did the right thing by not making the IIHF pay for NHL's Olympic participation; that money would have been away from developing hockey worldwide.

Olympics with NHL participation have been the ideal international hockey tournament and it's a pity if the NHL participation ends. But I can't blame the NHL for not participating the Olympics since there is not that much for the NHL to benefit. It's up to the IOC if they want the Olympics to be a pseudo-amateur event with no participation compensation, or if they want to have all the best athletes and are willing to share the revenue with other organizations to make that happen.

The NHL may be more willing to participate the 2022 Olympics, in order to promote itself in the Chinese market. However what I want to see the least is the NHL deciding case-by-case which Olympics to participate. I want to see NHL either committing long-term to the Olympics or starting to build up the brand of the World Cup of Hockey to make it the most important international hockey tournament. Then again, hardly anything can prevent the NHL from participating certain Olympics it feels important if the NHL pays all expenses itself.