Which Corporation Do I Get Mad At?

Thanks to the NHL I’m experiencing a little bit of a bummer about the 2018 Olympics. Now, I actually understand a little bit from both sides of the argument, so I’m not ready to pick a side here except for my own side as a fan. I’m getting a raw deal here. You’re getting a raw deal. I think the players in the NHL are getting a raw deal. The NHL and the IOC? I will save my sympathies for more deserving recipients.

So here’s how I see things. The NHL and the IOC are simply money making corporations. If there is still a person out there that believes the Olympics are about amateur sport and national excellence it’s because that’s simply what they want to believe. There’s no helping that person. They live in an imaginary world of make-believe where amateur athletes perform because of their passion for the sport and love of country. That’s fine, and maybe to some degree, there’s still a semblance of truth somewhere in there to be found, but the Olympics are no more about amateur sport than McDonalds is about feeding hungry people.

The Olympics is about money. It’s about making heaps and heaps of Scrooge-McDuck-jumping-head-first-into-a-pool-of-gems-and-gold-coins money. The IOC basically operates by convincing countries to fund the construction of monorails – er – stadiums and other sporting venues that hold capacities unlikely to ever be filled again with tax-payer dollars, raking in massive dollars from these events, then moving on to the next sucker. It’s fantastic. I LOVE the Olympic games. I watch all the time, have every year, and will again in 2018 too. But it’s just a massive sporting tournament that exists to make profits.

It serves no other function. This isn’t the Olympics of Ancient Greece which also served religious and political purposes for a collection of city-states. It’s just ticket sales. And that’s fine because so is the NHL.

The NHL doesn’t exist to bring hockey to my TV. It exists to make money, like all private businesses. If the owners of the NHL could make more money hosting eSports in their 20,000 seat arenas and make more money, the only ice we’d see at hockey games would be in our $7 sodas and simulated by Playstations.

So the NHL and the IOC have been under some agreement that working together benefits each other tangibly. That is to say, the dollars made sense. And make no mistake, with 31 NHL teams owned by different billionaires, these guys have worked out exactly how much money the partnership has added to their pockets.

Now the IOC and the NHL negotiate every Olympics and every Olympics the IOC caves and pays for the travel and the insurance on the NHL players. It happened this year too. That’s been the sticking point for the NHL up to these Olympics. However, the NHL got what they normally have been satisfied getting and it still isn’t enough for them. The current reporting suggests they wanted to be treated like an official sponsor of the Olympics and get all of the perks that come with it WITHOUT forking over the hundreds of millions of dollars that it costs to do so.

Additionally, the NHL wanted to leverage Olympic participation against the NHLPA in exchange for an extension of the current CBA (which we know by that offer must be working out for the owners pretty well). So the NHL was trying to further line their pockets from the Olympic participation while also ensuring that owners continue to line their pockets from the current CBA.

Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with the NHL trying either of those tactics. They have a right to try to make money. I can see from the money grubbing IOC’s perspective that they can’t just give away top sponsorship privileges without collecting hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s crazy. Imagine for a second that you sold a special badge that had no actual intrinsic value. It was useless to society in every way, but people would give you MILLIONS for it because you only had a few of these utterly useless badges. Would you give it away? No, of course not, because then people might see it’s useless and not pay millions for it anymore.

Also, imagine if you were the NHL and you were asked to farm out your product – that YOU sell for millions of dollars – and all you get in return was “growth of the game” that you could definitely calculate but only after the fact and whose value to you was a moving target at best. The IOC would cover the cost of the tournament and insurance but you had to sit there and watch them rake in millions with your product and smile like a dummy. Wouldn’t you ask for more? Wouldn’t you say, “Hey, I want in on your racket too?” Of course you would.

So I’m equally unhappy with the IOC and the NHL in this turn of events that will now see Nigel Dawes be Canada’s top forward (seriously, he had 62 points in 59 KHL games last year). This really is the darkest timeline for Olympic hockey. Now there’s a chance that the NHL is bluffing and the league will still participate. I know NHL players are hopeful for this. But I was hopeful that the 2004-2005 lockout was a bluff. It wasn’t a bluff. The world was less than a year away from being gifted a line of McDavid–Crosby–Stamkos on an Olympic sized ice surface. If that doesn’t make you want to throw up with rage then your heart is cold and broken.

For McDavid, he is young enough that there’s hope he will play in some other Olympic games (Or sport. Looking at you, short-track speed skating). For some of the middle aged NHL players, this probably closes a door on their Olympic careers. That’s sad because I actually think, harkening back to paragraph two, that NHL players make enough money already that the Olympics really are just about representing their countries at the highest level.

So we’ve been dealt a bad hand here by the NHL and the IOC. We don’t get to see the best national teams play each other. We won’t get to see the best teams from Canada and the US. Ok, well, Canada – because we know the US was going to screw it up anyway. Connor McDavid will be playing games for the Oilers and not with a Maple Leaf on his chest (sorry Leaf fans, the Olympics was as close as you were ever gonna get). That’s something Oiler fans can live with, but outside of Edmonton that’s a major loss for hockey. Connor McDavid will not be the NHL’s global ambassador for the sport at the 2018 Olympics. I wish I could say to NHL owners and IOC officials that this situation is an embarrassment to the game of hockey, but neither will care.

It’s just about money.

  • Clubhouse

    Great article Matt, I wonder if IOC will lose sponsorship money without NHL its why I think NHL said no now so early because I certainly wouldn’t sponsor a Winter Olympics without NHL players. Its the top watched and most merchandised sport in the whole tourney. My guess is Sponsorship and AD sales will really suffer form this news and that’s the tactic Bettman and Co are using. NHL to IOC look what our product means to your entire tournament.

    I am mad at both too but think/hope that NHL players will be there.

  • Serious Gord

    The IOC is a repugnant, corrupt organization. The NHL should have nothing to do with it. Rather it should redouble it efforts to make the World Cup the premier hockey tournament

  • 99CupsofCoffey

    Finally a well written article on the subject. Everyone is freaking out and wanting Bettman’s head, but there’s a lot more to it that just him saying “no”.

  • X - Del

    Seems as though I am one of the few people that are not excited about Olympic hockey. Getting up to watch 97 & 87 beat up Norway at 4 am is not fun, exciting, nor something to look forward to. It’s not even DVR worthy really, as I’d still have to make time at some point through out the day to watch a game that I would probably know the score of by the time I could actually watch it.

    Do you know what is fun…NHL hockey, especially the run to the playoffs and the fight for the Stanley Cup; a three week break would most likely detract from this excitement and lower the overall quality of the best part of the season. And for what purpose, so the IOC can make more unsharable money? or So that I can feel a sense of pride knowing that Team Canada (full of the world’s best hockey players) extended its unbeaten streak?

    No Thanks…

    • ScottV

      Agreed – one game take all format in the elimination phase, leaves a lot of room for the best team to lose. A long way to go, to have a hot goaltender or unusual luck determine a gold medal winner. While the gap may be closing – guess what – Canada is the strongest hockey nation, without having to go thru a major fuss, half way round the world.

      I hate cramming the NHL schedule to accommodate the Olympics. People pay a lot of money to watch tired players dragging their @sses on endless back to backs.

    • Hemmercules

      I’m with you. Some of the hockey is great at the Olympics. Canada vs US, Sweden, Russia. The rest is just kind of meh. Now that the Oilers are relevant I would much rather just watch them. I’m sure the NHL will be back in the Olympics though, taking one off doesn’t hurt my feelings that much.

    • MacT's Neglected Helmet

      100% disagree.

      The lopsided matches (e.g. Canada vs Norway) are only during the prelims. The marquee matches (e.g. Canada vs USA, Russia vs. Sweden, etc.) arrive very quickly. And even the lopsided matches are fun for hardcore hockey fans. You’re telling me that you don’t want to watch Connor McDavid rack up 8 points in a game by setting up other superstars like Crosby, Stamkos, and Taylor Hall? Okay…

      A 3-week break does NOT detract from the NHL playoff race. We’ve been through this before. It does not detract. And who cares if the IOC makes “more unshareable money”? It’s not like the NHL owners are sharing any of those profits with you (in fact, your tax dollars may be going their way…).

      Also, yes. There is a sense of pride in watching Team Canada win. Winning a single-game-elimination tourney like the Olympics is hard. And it requires luck! Team Canada has made it look easy… but if you’ve been paying attention, it’s not easy at all. It’s a huge accomplishment. Canadians should be proud of this.

  • Natejax97

    I’m not shocked…nor am I all that disappointed. I’ll watch the Olympics and I will watch hockey and I will cheer and drink beer at 4 am during the gold medal game…now in saying that I would be way more anxious about this if the Olympics were in canada or the US. My guess is that this is a HUGE negotiating tactic for the next games and we might very well see NHL players back in the Olympics in 2022…that’s just my guess. The NHL hopes the IOC realizes they need the NHL there to make better money. And they are probably right. If the IOC determines that they are fine without pro athletes (NHL) then look out…precedence set and the next games are no longer in the cards.

    This is never over…the IOC and the NHL PA can come to the table even now to try to get something done. I think the NHL has just drawn the line in the sand and will not start any further negotiations, but they would be crazy not to listen to new offers…because…well…money.

  • Randaman

    Gotta say now that the Oilers are relevant, I wont miss the Olympics at all. I only watched the past Olympics for the hockey but I have great hockey here at home.

    • MacT's Neglected Helmet

      Disagree. The Olympics are so much fun. Best on best tournament. Cheering for your country. No ads on the boards! Oilers hockey is pretty great right now, but why would that change your feelings on the Olympics?

      I like watching Connor McDavid do his thing in an Oilers jersey. I would’ve liked watching him do it in a Team Canada jersey…

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    It’s clearly not “just about money”. If it were, they probably would have found a way.

    It’s about stupid pride too. It’s about the stubborn NHL wanting to get something, anything, from anyone, in return for lending their “assets” to the Olympics. The NHL wanted to have the last word, as they always do. It’s about the elitist IOC expecting everyone to bend to their will. Both the NHL and IOC treated this as a negotiation. Both wanted to “stick it to the other guy”. Pathetic.

  • Mitch92

    Withdrawal is the only negotiating tactic that Bettman ever has success with so he continues to use it. He should have discussed his intentions privately with the PA in order to get everyone on the same page. Loudmouth outliers don’t help in this kind of negotiation. I believe the NHL players will still go to the Olympics. Bettman’s power will be tested.

  • @Hallsy4

    I haven’t followed this too closely, and am a bit in disbelief, actually. I hope Ovechkin etc, still go like they said they would. Test the weasel Bettman’s small man syndrome, or at least make him squirm a bit. Can’t stand that guy.

  • Oiler Al

    O V, you funded your wallet and your ego at the expanse of America and the NHL. If you crave the Russian [home] way, pack your bags and headout to the KHL, you wont be missed.

  • Anton CP

    We will see a wave of Russians “retiring” just to play for the Olympics. IF Ovi can somehow win this year’s Stanley Cup then expecting him to be gone to KHL. Radulov has only one year contract that he can go anywhere he wants, Malkin also can “retire” from NHL since the only thing is missing with him is the gold medal. Pretty much most of the elite Russians will be gone if Bettman wants to carry on with his stupid pride.

  • ed from edmonton

    I see very little motivation for the NHL to disrupt its season for questionable return. Having an Olympics in North America and the NHL not being involved in some sense in one thing. But when it is Korea its quite different.

    It will be interesting in seeing how serious star players are about playing in the Olympics. The Capitals owner gas stated he has “Ovi’s back” on this issue, whatever that means. But what if other Caps like Holtby, Oshie, Carlson, Backstrom also want to go. What would he say to his paying customers when he ices the “B” team?

  • JoruneZ

    “Now the IOC and the NHL negotiate every Olympics and every Olympics the IOC caves and pays for the travel and the insurance on the NHL players. It happened this year too.”

    From all articles I have read, the IIHF stepped in to cover the travel and insurance costs, not the IOC. The NHL ostensibly does not want to accept this because it takes away money which would have been budgeted for growing the game of hockey internationally (which I would argue is exactly what the Olympic exposure, especially in Asia, would do.)

    It only slightly changes the frame of the argument, it’s still sets of billionaires arguing over what a limited set of millionaires will be able to do, but we should be debating on the correct facts here.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    What the players should do in solidarity is one by one come out and say they won’t play in another World Cup of Hockey if there is no Olympic participation.

    What did the last one pull in? $50M? So $25M to the owners half to the players.

    Peanuts to almost any other respectable league.

  • 2centz

    As a fan,I am truly sick of Gary Bettman,and how he always pulls this crap,when he doesn’t get his way. I hated the count for the two lockouts,but understood the need to fix what was broken. But this is pure greed,and it makes me sick. He’s had long enough at the helm,and I hope this is his undoing. Fans should start calling for this man to resign,sick of his pouty face,he reminds me of the kid on the playground,who would get p*ssed off,take his ball,and go cry to his mom. I wonder if Melnyk breast feeds Bettman or Bettman breast feeds Melnyk?

  • GK1980

    Well here is the thing. Apparently the NHL has to foot the bill to house and feed the players and apparently it’s around $20 million. The IOC doesn’t pay a cent yet they reap the profit with marketing ect. I see the NHL’s side but to outright star it’s a no go is short sighted and one would hope some more negotiating will occur. The IOC should pay some of the bill for sure.

  • deferoiler

    I think part of the reason the nhl dosent want it’s players at the Olympics is due to the failure that the World Cup was! It got a quarter of the viewers that hockey at the Olympics did and didn’t profit as much as they were projected too. By refusing to participate in the Olympics it robs fans and players of a chance to experience a best on best hockey tournament until the next world cup in 2020. This would be a long term plan to make the world cup more profitable to spite their players and the fans that write their paychecks. If we truly want to stick it to the owners players and fans need to boycott the next world cup to prove that it is nothing compared to the Olympics we have come to love.

  • Wranglicon

    Good article. Everything anyone with a bit of sense is thinking. But who writes the polls on the sidebar? 4 options, but only 2 choices – “GRRRR ARRRGHHHH” or “whatever”. STOP GIVING WANYE CONTROL OF POLLS GUYZ

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Good article and I mostly agree with your take, Matt. I do think the NHL was in the Olympics with the lofty goal of “growing the game,” but I don’t think it ever had to do with “growing the game internationally.” It was always about growing the game in the part of the world between New York and Los Angeles … and the game-watching NHL ticket-buyers therein.

    To make that happen, the NHL owners – 24 of whom operate in those U.S. markets – wanted … needed …. coveted … a gold medal for Team USA. More than one would have been nice, but if it only had to be one, then 2002 in Salt Lake City would have been great (and against Russia in the final would have been perfect).

    I’m sure that will never be admitted publicly, but I’d bet that was always the game plan for all of this when it started in Nagano in 1998. Endure four or five go-rounds of shutting down the season for two or three weeks and – for a couple of those go-rounds – forcing North American fans to wake up at 3 a.m. to watch games, all in the hopes that somehow, some way, the U.S. could slide through.

    Five kicks at the can in 20 years and … no dice. Lots of entertaining hockey, but no U.S. gold. That ain’t enough, folks. Not for the U.S. market. They want winners. They want Miracle on Ice 2.0. And they just didn’t get it.

    I’m sure they didn’t expect that 20 years ago, mind you. And I’d also bet that if the 2022 event was back in the U.S., sure-as-shooting, the NHL would be there. But back-to-back events in Korea and China? Nope, sorry – not worth the 3 a.m. wakeup calls and three weeks of lost revenue back home. Time to cut bait.

    But, there was a time when we got our international fix with the Canada Cup. Maybe the World Cup can become that again. Or maybe this isn’t a final decision. We’ll see.