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NHL, Bettman playing leverage game with Olympics

Mar 2, 2010, 9:30 PM EDT

[Editor’s note:  We thought we had locked the door.  We’re not sure how this guy snuck in.  We have alerted security.]

So with hockey — and thus the NHL — riding an unprecedented wave of popularity after the most compelling two-week tournament in the history of the sport (that sounds like hyperbole but it’s actually the truth), the folks who are calling the shots in pro hockey realize that pulling the plug on the two-week plug-pulling once every four years would be a huge blunder, right?


Commissioner Gary Bettman, in an appearance on NHL Network, continued his recent committing to not committing by calling the matter a “complicated decision.”

“When you get seduced by the two weeks of Olympic competition . . . you can’t forget the fact that this has an impact on our season and it has an impact on how our clubs operate,” Bettman said.  “Lots of people are making a big deal of the fact that we haven’t said we’re going in 2014.  We haven’t said we’re not going.  There’s plenty of time.  We haven’t said yes.  We haven’t said no.  We have said we will decide in the appropriate timeframe with our players association and in discussions with the [IOC and IIHF]. We haven’t decided and that’s not inconsistent with anything we’ve done in the past.”

So what’s really going on?  It’s all business.

With the NHL and the NHL Players Association working on a new deal and the players uniformly intent on playing in Sochi when the Olympics reconvene, Bettman can point to the concerns in order to leverage a major concession or two (or more) from the union.  And as The Globe & Mail recently pointed out (via SportsBusiness Daily), Bettman’s coy ploy is aimed at getting better terms from the IOC and the IIHF.

Still, the NHL’s decision to throw hot water on the ice by not committing to a return could be keeping folks who otherwise would be ready to embrace the NHL from making a decision on the matter until the NHL makes a decision on the next Olympics.  By then, of course, the excitement will have died down dramatically — and hockey will have once again faded to B-level curiosity, a category in which it simply doesn’t belong.

  1. James O'Brien - Mar 2, 2010 at 10:07 PM

    Good stuff, Mike. I think I speak for Brandon when I say that you’re more than welcome. :)
    And, really, all I care about in the grand scheme of things is avoiding another lockout. Everything else is just gravy.

  2. Joe - Mar 2, 2010 at 10:24 PM

    I certainly hope Bettman has a plan to let the 18 million or so Directv subscribers watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Currently, Comcast/NBC is holding the Versus channel hostage from Directv by overreaching on its rights fees for a channel that offers very little to mainstream viewers.

  3. Tim - Mar 2, 2010 at 10:27 PM

    Why is Bettman still the commissioner of the NHL?

  4. Matt - Mar 2, 2010 at 11:06 PM

    Gary Bettman has got to go

  5. Joe E - Mar 3, 2010 at 12:42 AM

    I think a key thing at play here is the nasty relationship between the league that currently plays in the next host country, that being the KHL. The NHL is probably going to use this as leverage to get a deal similar to the deals with the other European leagues and the NHL. I would hope the NHL isn’t so near sighted to not see the benefits of playing in the Olympics, though this is Gary ‘the NHL loves the south’ Bettman we are talking about.

  6. Rays fan - Mar 3, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    Not sure Bettman realizes that the casual fan still hasn’t returned after the last lockout/lost season & it’s only this Winter Olympics that has spread any excitement beyond the core fan base. Joe in comment 2 above mentioned DirecTV not carrying Versus; neither does a lot of basic cable plans. Right now hockey’s being treated like a niche sport. It’s much too good for that, but it will continue to be treated that way unless Bettman decides to capitalize on the current wave of goodwill. NOT cooperating with the IOC is what would be bad for business.

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