Opinion: Money hungry Gary Bettman lets fans down
The NHL will not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics
By Dan Khavkin, Staff Writer
It’s highly controversial for the National Hockey League (NHL) to decide not to let its 150 players participate in the upcoming Olympics held at Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has come up with a handful of, quite frankly, very weak arguments on why the NHL shouldn’t let its world-class athletes go to the 23rd winter games.
And on Apr. 3, Mr. Bettman announced that the league would not be participating.
Bettman’s most prominent argument is all about business.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has payed for the last five trips on behalf of the NHL since the 1998 Nagano Olympics in Japan, but this coming Olympiad sees a different pace.
IOC is pushing the costs onto the NHL.
Arguments laid out by the IOC include how other professionals in a wide range of sports have a strong desire to join and participate in the Olympics.
International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) boss Rene Fesel insists that the timing of the Winter Olympics, which has the NHL take a mid-season break in order to participate, makes them a unique case.
Bettman’s counter argument is that the estimated cost is “many, many, many millions of dollars to cover expenses such as transportation, insurance and accommodations for the approximately 150 NHL players who would participate in the Olympics,” he stated in May 2016.
The National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) estimate costs to be around $10-15 million USD.
NHLPA head Don Fehr wants the players to play for their countries in the Olympics.
“If we end up not going, the reaction from the players’ side across the board is not going to be a good one. And my guess is it’s going to last for a very long time. I think it’s disappointing more than surprising. The opportunity to participate at the Olympics Games is a different thing than just another hockey tournament. There’s a patriotic element to it and it means something to the guys. It means quite a lot.” he states.
The IIHF however, was willing to raise around $10 million to fund the athletes.
Fasel states, “The NHL’s presence at the Winter Games has been a huge benefit for the sport’s visibility worldwide and has provided a memorable experience for the players that have competed from Nagano to Sochi, so we will continue to work hard to ensure that we secure their participation in Pyeongchang and beyond.”
Bettman argues that South Korea isn’t a hockey market and the risk of injury to stars makes the trip not worth it.
The irony here is that he is okay with the NHL taking part in the 2022 Olympics to be held in Beijing, China.
Even Fasel and members of the IOC jokingly say, “The NHL can’t just pick and choose where they want to go.”
However, Bettman states, “The league isn’t anti-Olympics.”
“We’ve been to five of them. The problem is the clubs are anti-disruption to the season. To disappear for almost three weeks in February when there’s no football, no baseball, there’s only basketball and us,” Bettman says. “To do it where there’s no programming for the NHL Network, for NHL.com, for all of our social media platforms – we just disappear.”
It is true that the NHL has to halt three weeks of its season but why is that an issue? It’s not like the players don’t want to compete in the Olympics and they would be aware that the game schedule before and after the event is tighter.
As they have the last five Olympics, the players would be willing to take that so called “hit” like they did in 2014 when the winter games were held in Sochi, Russia.
Everything ran smoothly and hockey fans got a real treat that winter.
But the core issue is that the owners didn’t make as much money in that stint.
In my opinion, Bettman needs to know that hockey is about more than making money.
He already is a villain among hockey fans, not just in Canada and the USA, but around the world. He was to blame for THREE lockouts since 1993 when Bettman took over the NHL, using his business approach to the sport.
How can he use this argument when even he stated, “the NHL isn’t anti-Olympics”?
NHL superstars can heavily influence the debate and spark a move to put pressure on the people in charge.
Russian hockey superstar Alexander Ovechkin has already vowed he’s going to the Olympics “with or without them.”
Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals, is behind his player.
Ovechkin isn’t just a world class hockey player who breaks records almost every season, he also helps pack stadiums and has his name on the back of many fans jerseys, obviously helping out management.
The pinnacle of every athlete’s career is to win a gold medal at the Olympics.
It isn’t fair to the players or their fans to take away that right because the people in charge of the money aren’t willing to fork over the cash and instead make up hypothetical outcomes.
It’s reasonable for the owners to be concerned about losing their star players in a non-NHL environment but they have to understand that those players, such as New York Islanders’ star John Tavares, would much rather risk injury wearing his country’s sweater.
The Olympics are the perfect example of how the diverse world we live in can unite together for three weeks. If there are two things sports should never be confronted with, it’s politics and money.
The NHL is clearly looking for a quick buck when they mentioned they would rather send players to China.
Indeed it is a growing hockey market and the NHL sees what the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and the NBA have done to further influence on the other side of the ocean.
The Russian league featured the Kunlun Red Stars, a team based in Beijing, that managed to fit all the needed requirements to join the league and qualified for the playoffs in their inaugural year.
The NBA inked a $700 million deal in China to stream games online for five years and the NHL is looking for something similar in terms of business.
This summer the NHL will conduct exhibition games in China to see if the market can grow any bigger but nothing is official thus far.
Olympics obviously benefit from having NHL’ers participate and it makes economic sense to make the IOC ante up to cover insurance costs etc. But, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
Bettman and his colleagues could’ve come up with better arguments to explain why the NHL won’t take part. For example, the environment around the Olympics.
Unfortunately for hockey fans, we won’t get to see the best players in the world participate, and it’s a travesty.