The National Hockey League has patted itself on the back repeatedly for its participation at the recently concluded Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. The men's hockey competition provided entertaining and, at times, dramatic games. But did the NHL benefit?
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stated many times that the players expressed the desire to participate in the Winter Olympics to represent their countries. He also indicated often that the marketing and good will that is part of the participation supports the league’s relationships with hockey programs around the world.
However, unlike the games four years ago in Vancouver, the 2014 version of the Winter Olympics was held in a time zone that was nine hours ahead of the U.S. and Canada east coast. This timing issue and other drawbacks to the men’s hockey competition at the games may have actually hurt the NHL, with fans getting the short end of the hockey stick.
To participate in the Sochi Winter Olympics, the NHL closed its season for more than two weeks. This occurred just as rivalry games among teams in playoff contention were taking center ice and soon after several outdoor games boosted television ratings. Rosters were frozen and, in some instances, contract talks were delayed or dropped with potential free agent players. This will have an effect on trades that must be completed by March 5 at 3 p.m.
Injuries And TV Issues
Several key NHL players were injured, and this will impact teams, playoff races and, in one instance, revenue.
Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers will miss a couple of weeks due to a fractured hand. Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings aggravated a previous back injury that required surgery, forcing him to miss games during the playoff run.
The Columbus Blue Jackets placed Fedor Tyutin on injured reserve after he injured his ankle in Sochi. The New York Islanders are outside of playoff contention but lost its best player and fan favorite John Tavares for the season with an injured knee. While Tavares will not require surgery, his absence from the Islanders line-up further will diminish already feeble ticket sales during a losing season.
The games were broadcast live at 3 a.m., 6 a.m. and 12 noon on the east coast. While some fans could watch the early games, work and school interfered with the rest of the matchups.
Hockey games were difficult to find on NBC’s various channels. Some were broadcast on the main network, others appeared on NBCSN (NBC’s sports network) and still others on CNBC and USA Network. NBC did stream the games live online for fans who were away from home, but after a five-minute preview of each game fans were required to obtain access through their online cable/satellite accounts. DirecTV viewers could not access certain games due to what the provider called technical issues. Fans associated with other providers also complained about the lack of online access.
Highlights of played games also were not available on local evening newscasts, online, or on the NHL Network. Since NBC owned rights to the games, the reporting and analysis of results were limited to photographs.
The 2018 Winter Olympics will be held in Korea, and the same issues will prevail—hiatus for the NHL regular season, time zone differences, player injuries, broadcast problems and the viewing of still images for game highlights. Will the NHL subject its fans to this again?