SBD/February 11, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Roadblocks Remain To An NHL Presence In Sochi Winter Games

NHL players could seek concessions from the IOC and IIHF as conditions to participate
IIHF President Rene Fasel said he has "no doubt" that NHL players want to play in the '14 Sochi Games and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman “has no other choice" than to allow the league's players to participate. Fasel noted some of the “barriers” to the players going to Sochi could be “egos from some people in North America.” The CBC’s Elliotte Friedman said “whatever issues” the NHL, the players, the IOC and IIHF may have, "they want to get this done." Friedman said Bettman “has some issues … but they have worked hard on him to make him realize this is important and I think Bettman has bought in.” But the CBC’s Glenn Healy said Fasel's comments are “not going to help” and there will “be some agenda items that they have to go through." Healy: "It’s not as simple as just wanting to go.” The agenda items include “access issues” to the players, financial compensation, the “international competition calendar that they have to create” and the World Cup and World Championships. Healy: “It's not just about getting players to go to the Olympics. We have to think big picture and how we’re going to grow this game worldwide” (“HNIC,” CBC, 2/9). SI.com's Allan Muir wrote Fasel's comments were not "just an inelegantly worded response from an English-as-a-second-language bureaucrat." Fasel "recognizes that the players want to go to Sochi and that more than a few are planning to head over next February with or without the league’s permission." But he "needs the full cooperation" of Bettman and the NHL BOG, which is "something no one should ever take for granted." It was a "stunningly clumsy decision by a man who should understand that at his own peril he makes Bettman look like a powerless fool" (SI.com, 2/10).

THE NEXT STEP: In L.A., Helene Elliott reports the NHL, NHLPA and the IIHF will meet in N.Y. "on Thursday and Friday to discuss" the NHL's involvement in the Sochi Games. Staging "epic matchups for worldwide audiences seems a strong enough reason to say yes, but it's not a simple decision." The NHL gets "no direct financial benefit from allowing players to represent their homelands and gets little access to players, their images, or video of them during the Games, limiting promotional opportunities." If the IIHF and the IOC "give the NHL wider access and share the public-relations bounty, it would be well worth everyone's while for players to compete in Sochi." Unlike previous Winter Olympics, NHLers' involvement in the Sochi Games "wasn't negotiated through collective bargaining" (L.A. TIMES, 2/11). The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin notes the NHL prior to this CBA "was willing to lend its prestige and players to the IIHF and Olympics for little monetary gain." However, with its "financial future tightening, it's time for a return on that investment" (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/11).

WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME? The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts writes players "agree with the NHL owners, who think they get nothing in return for interrupting their regular-season schedule." The players think there needs to be "some giving on the part of the IOC and IIHF on several fronts, including access to players’ and NHL teams’ regular doctors, insurance, a cut of the revenue they bring in and the schedule regarding both Olympic participation and other international competition" (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/11). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside noted among the issues the league and the players have "complained about in the past are access to tickets and event sites by league and union staff." There also is the "larger issue of how the league and its players are treated by the IOC." The NHL would "like to be treated more like a rights holder or a top sponsor, with the access and advantages granted by such status." It is "expected the IOC will be willing to address these concerns" because hockey is "a huge revenue generator." It would be "almost unthinkable from the IOC and the NBC perspective for the NHL not to take part in the Sochi Games" (ESPN.com, 2/9).

NORTHERN EXPOSURE: CBSSPORTS.com's Chris Peters wrote the "exposure of the Vancouver Olympics certainly helped the NHL's cause in attracting new fans but didn't really result in earth-shattering TV ratings or ticket sales for the league." NBC for the Sochi Games has "committed to airing hockey live and would likely re-air bigger games on tape delay." Thus, the chances of "hitting as many eyeballs live as the games did from Vancouver are pretty slim." Peters: "The exposure potential shrinks while the logistical inconvenience grows for the NHL" (CBSSPORTS.com, 2/8).
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