SBJ/June 3-9, 2013/Olympics

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  • Broadcasters OK access to players for NHL Network in Sochi

    The NHL has secured initial approval from Olympic broadcast rights holders CBC and NBC for access to players for the NHL Network at hockey venues during the Sochi Games.

    Sources said the league is expected to receive the same approvals from the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation when an agreement to allow NHL players to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics is completed. That agreement is expected by the end of the month.

    The NHL Network also will receive limited Olympic content, under the tentative agreement with NBC and CBC. Sources said that could be highlights, interviews or other footage collected by the broadcasters.

    Beginning in 1998, the NHL has taken a break in its regular-season schedule so its players can play in the Olympics. That’s made player participation possible for the past four Winter
    Games.

    NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, who is working on the agreement with the IOC and IIHF, declined to comment, as did executives at NBC and CBC.

    Representatives from the IIHF were unavailable for comment.

    In an email, an IOC spokesman said: “Any proposed agreement between an Olympic rights holding broadcaster and other non-rights-holding broadcasters regarding Olympic Games broadcast is subject to IOC approval. At this time, the IOC is aware of the discussions but has not yet received any sublicense request or the accompanying details.”

    Access for the NHL Network was one of the changes the league has been seeking from the IOC and IIHF before agreeing to send its players back to the Olympics. Although the hockey games during the 2010 Olympics pulled record-setting ratings in the U.S. and Canada, the NHL left Vancouver frustrated by the lack of access the league and its owners had to players during the Games.

    The NHL was frustrated at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver by the lack of access it had to its players during the competition.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    Speaking after the Vancouver Games, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the cost of shutting down the league for 15 days in 2014 could outweigh the benefits. He was especially concerned, looking ahead, about the eight-hour time-zone difference between Sochi and the East Coast in North America. In 2014, most Olympic hockey games will air early in the morning in the U.S. and Canada.

    “What I’ve said repeatedly is that … going to the Olympics is a balancing act,” Bettman said at his state-of-the-league address in 2010. “And, you know, the benefits versus the burdens of doing it have to be weighed.”

    More recently, after a meeting with IIHF President René Fasel in New York in February, Bettman said, “If this can be worked out to everybody’s satisfaction, we’d all like to have NHL players at the Olympics.”

    The NHL also hopes to produce another international competition, the World Cup of Hockey, in 2016. The World Cup, last held in 2004, takes place before the opening of NHL club training camps in mid-September.

    When its agreement to send players to the Olympics ended after the Vancouver Games — that deal had sent players to the 2006 Games in Turin, as well — NHL executives planned to make securing more access a key point in negotiations around the Sochi Games. Historically, the IOC has allowed only broadcast rights holders to bring cameras into venues and to conduct interviews with athletes. At the 2010 Games in Vancouver, media outlets such as ESPN and the NHL Network had to schedule separate interviews at off-site locations with athletes or attend press events at the media center in order to get broadcast footage.

    In contrast to the access that the NHL is securing for NHL Network in Sochi, NBA TV had little access in London at last year’s Summer Olympics. David Aldridge was NBA TV’s on-site reporter, but as has been the case for NHL Network’s coverage previously, all of Aldridge’s segments were done with him standing outside in London, not at an Olympic venue.

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