Wrong Decision By NHL
When I first got into ice hockey it was not because of the NHL. It was the old British Superleague and it was 1996. By the time the olympics in Nakano come around I was hooked. All of the talk at the time was about the NHL players and here was my first chance to see the players in action.
This weeks announcement by the NHL that they would not allow its players to play in Korea next year has bewildered me.
The talk of money is the biggest issue I have. The NHL is the biggest, richest and has the best talent in the world. Contracts are not measured in terms of university places or housing provisions like they might be in the UK but in millions of dollars. So it seems hard to understand why the league, players, or national bodies like Hockey Canada or USA Hockey can not find a few hundred per player for a flight.
The league owners are another issue. They talk about loosing revenue but have not fully explained how. The league season has 41 home games in it regardless of how the season is made up. You still get the same number of home games whether there is a gap in the middle of not. In fact wouldn’t the league owners make more money? Imagine how many more Sidney Crosby jerseys were sold following that 2010 winning goal or how many TJ Oshie jerseys were after his shootout goals in 2014. Also you have 3 weeks of more hockey involving those players.
In the UK ice hockey is a bums on seats business. The more fans through the door the more revenue you get. In the NHL it is more complicating with greater TV revenue, advertising and cooperate hospitality but it is still about filling those venues and to do that the NHL and owners talk about expanding the game. To do this NHL can transplant teams in other countries, play games in other countries and sell more TV deals to more countries like the NFL has. But actually the NFL’s London games have not expanded the game very much in the UK. Participation in American Football in the UK has fell from 45,500 to 28,600. Surely a way around this is to get people interest the sport and they will go and watch it locally and then want to know more.
In 2012 sport participation in the UK rose by nearly 750,000 in the months immediately after they Olympics. Whilst a similar number wouldn’t be expected after a winter games there are increases. Curling for example had its participation rise 6% following its inclusion in the Olympics and the major factor polling company MORI found was the increased media coverage from the games. So why wouldn’t ice hockey at the grass routes benefit from the NHL’s inclusion at the games and from this the NHL benefit. After all ice hockey is one of the few winter sports that can be played anywhere. All you need is rink, no mountains or tracks are needed.
In terms of thinking global this decision flies in the face of what the NHL are saying. They want to grow the game globally with games overseas but because it doesn’t slightly inconveniences the league and North American it won’t happen.
I don’t really understand the insurance argument. Owners and the league have millions invested in those players and to loose them not on their own time is one way of looking at it. However did Oilers fans turn away last season when Connor McDavid was injured. No they did not and nor did the rest of the league or fans. The NHL have come across arguing that it is ok for an NHL player to get injured playing in the NHL but not to risk it anywhere else.
It is a real shame that the NHL has taken this decision and it is even worse that they have not come out and really reiterated that they ever wanted the players to go to the olympics.
I genuinely hope that there is a players revolt and they do go to play in the Olympics. To be selected for your national team is great honour and is not one based on anything other than you are the best for that position in your country. There is no salary cap, no draft system, no age restriction it is based on skill. And there are seldom enough opportunities for players to do this.
As a fan I am disappointed and really hope the NHL can make a permanent commitment to the games in the future. In the mean perhaps it will help to cheer on anyone but Canada or USA at Korea 2018.