The ratings were huge again in Sochi. Even more importantly, so was the buzz about hockey.
People interrupted their work during the day to watch the big games. Hockey led sports reports. It was No. 1 on the sports agenda for the past week.
When does that happen in February? Heck, it doesn’t even occur in June during the Stanley Cup Final.
The Olympics are an unparalleled promotion opportunity to expand hockey beyond the die-hards in the U.S. and beyond. It is worth the high price of shutting down the NHL once every four years.
NBC obviously wants to see NHL players in South Korea in 2018. However, it isn’t that easy.
During a conference call last week, Eddie Olczyk actually made a compelling argument that hockey might be a better fit for the Summer Olympics.
Olczyk: “I think when you look at the possibilities or the scenarios, you have to look at the business of the game. This is what it comes down to right, it comes down to the business. You shut down your business, being the National Hockey League, for three weeks, or three and a half weeks if you have to travel another five or six hours to get to South Korea. When you have the best sporting event every four years, I was lucky enough to play as an amateur, back in 1984, thirty years ago for Team USA over in the Olympics in Sarajevo, when you have the opportunity to have the best athletes at these games it takes it to another level it takes our sport to another level. Maybe we’re getting to the point where you might have to get creative where everyone is happy, ownership is happy in the National Hockey League, the Players Association is happy, most importantly the Olympians and the fans of the sport.”
“Maybe we are getting to the point where the game of Hockey has to be played in August in the Summer Olympics. Maybe we are getting to that stage where you don’t have to shut down the National Hockey League for three weeks and slow down your business. Canadian markets, Chicago, Detroit, New York, you can go on and on and on. Those aren’t going to take a hit so to speak, when your business or your team goes away for three weeks. But you have a lot of franchises that are treading water, are having momentum and then all of the sudden you go away for a while. But the selling of the game on NBC, having the best athletes play is something I don’t think you can put a price tag on. Maybe, to make everybody happy, maybe somebody needs to say, you know what maybe we can do this, maybe we can have the game of hockey played in the Summer Olympics.”
Meanwhile, Olczyk’s fellow analysts, Jeremy Roenick and Pierre McGuire, made their cases for the NHL to continue to participate in the Winter Games.
Roenick: “In talking to a lot of the players, this event in the Olympics is very important to them. And it’s a very exciting time for them for their families and to represent their country and you talk about the length of travel that they’ve gone through to come here, to stop a season in mid-season as they’re in a race for the playoffs, it’s very difficult, and to have to think about doing that and going all the way to South Korea…it’s going to be really interesting to see what happens after this Sochi Olympics and the travel…how guys are going to feel when they get back. I know the European players, the Russians, the Fins, the Swedes…they’re so loyal and proud of their countries, they’re brought up to want to be Olympians…I know that they would want to be in South Korea, regardless of the travel. I think it’s going to be a very interesting decision.”
McGuire: “I’ll tell you one thing, the T.J. Oshie moment is all you need to know about what the NHL players being at the Olympics is all about. That is one of the most magical moments you’ll ever see. What T.J. Oshie was able to do put the game of hockey right at the front of the entire Olympic spectrum. Without National Hockey League players at the Olympics I don’t know if you can have those moments, I really don’t. So it speaks to the overall appeal of the best players in the world being part of the Olympics. I have not talked to one player that says they do not want to be a part of the Olympics. I have not talked to one. Of all the players I have talked to in the National Hockey League over the last fifteen years, I have not talked to one that doesn’t want to be an Olympian.”
Bottom line: I’m betting NHL is on in 2018.