When you think of the Winter Olympics every four years, one of the first sports you may think of maybe Olympic Ice Hockey. Ice hockey is a big sport in many countries, like Canada and Russia.
It’s a wonderful sport, isn’t it? It is.
Recently, news broke out that the current NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman said that the NHL wouldn’t be sending their players to the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Today, I want to discuss why players need to go to the Olympics,
for the better of the sport of hockey.
Players want to go and represent their countries.
Here is a handy graph showing NHL nationalities, as of 2014. (Source)
Since the recent announcement from Bettman, big name players like Alex Ovechkin, have gone against Bettman’s decision, and have publicly stated that “So, I don’t know, somebody (is) going to tell me ‘don’t go,’ I don’t care, I just go.”, as reported by ESPN reporter Pierre LeBrun.
Other players, like Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Henrik Lundqvist, have stated through social media, mostly Twitter, that they do not agree with the decision either and that a “huge opportunity to market the game on the biggest stage (in the world) is wasted.”
Even the NHLPA (National Hockey League Player’s Association) has gone out and have stated that “The players are extraordinarily disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL’s shortsighted decision to not continue our participation in the Olympics”.
The Olympics are the one way that a player can have the opportunity to represent their country in a huge event like this, and a lot of players have a great deal of pride for the countries that they represent.
The four-year gap between each Olympics can also make this the last chance that some players can represent their countries.
The decision could cause a drift between the League and the NHLPA, and the decision could prove even to cause players (mostly from Russia, and others) to move to another league temporarily (like the KHL) just to have the opportunity to represent their country on the Olympic stage.
Not being there could cause issues regarding Marketing.
The idea of watching a given country is better from a fan’s standpoint, as fans may be more interested in looking at a 2 to 3-week Olympic tourney than looking at a long, 82 game, 31 weeks long NHL regular season.
As stated before, the Olympics are considered the biggest stage in the world for sports and gives the NHL the best opportunity to advertise to new fans. The NHL is not as globally recognized of a league compared to the NBA, at least in revenue, according to Cork Gaines of Business Insider. The NBA makes $152 million, compared to the NHL’s $88 million.
Here’s how the NHL compares to other leagues. (Source)
The Olympics brings out the best in hockey, and often shows people what hockey is all about, all skill and fast paced, an image that the NHL is trying to lean towards.
The NHL is a league that is focused on growing the game, and not taking the opportunity to grow hockey in a country with little hockey could prove to be a problem. According to the NHL website and their social media outlets, The NHL has taken strides to gain exposure in China (example: Boston Bruins sending two players to the country for marketing purposes), including an upcoming preseason game featuring the Canucks and Kings in Beijing, to prepare for the 2022 Olympics.
The Olympics in a new area isn’t new.
Since 1998, the Olympics have had professional hockey players in the hockey tournament of the Olympics. Before then, it was played by amateur athletes, often from college or minor leagues.
To show how different hockey was before 1998, Canada won the gold medal at the 1952 Winter Olympics and didn’t win again for 50 years, in 2002. Amateur players played most of those tournaments. In 1998, Olympic Hockey was also played in a small market, taking place in Nagano, Japan, and Gary Bettman was very instrumental in bringing pro hockey to said Olympics.
Like mentioned before, the NHL is wanting to grow the sport internationally, and they are already taking strides in China, the host of the 2022 Winter Olympics. The fact they aren’t taking the opportunity to show not only South Korea, but the World, about the sport of hockey, is crazy.
Why can’t he do it again?
Last, but not least, this could cause a lockout that no one wants.
Because the NHL, NHLPA, and the IIHF cannot agree on one thing, this could potentially be the perfect mix to cause a lockout before the Olympics begin. The union even believes that they will even take the owner’s of the team’s rights away that allow them to send their players to the Olympics themselves. Some owners (like the Capitals’ Ted Leonsis) have discussed sending their players to the Olympics regardless of the decision made by Gary Bettman, according to ESPN.
While the Olympics are an exciting event in general, Men’s Ice Hockey is a vital part of the games. Having no big names in hockey could cause issues regarding fanbases and viewership, and also create drifts between players.
I watch the Olympics every time they happen, and imagining an Olympics without NHL players is something I can’t imagine. It hasn’t even happened in my lifetime.
Yes, I am that young.
fear the bear