NHL’s Bettman on Olympics: ‘Assume we are not going’

Calgary, Alberta, CAN; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman during an interview prior to the game between the Calgary Flames and the Boston Bruins at Scotiabank Saddledome. Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Tuesday that with negotiations on Olympic participation at a standstill people should assume the league will not be sending its players to the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

The NHL last met with the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation in early February but with no meetings on the horizon Bettman sounded a pessimistic tone.

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“There are no negotiations ongoing,” Bettman told Reuters at the Sport Business Summit in New York. “We were open to having discussions on a variety of things that might mitigate the damage to our season but that had no resonance.

“As things stand now people should assume we are not going.”

The NHL‘s main issues with Olympic participation center on a need for it to shut down its season for 2-1/2 weeks, along with concerns about player injures.

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For handing over $3.5 billion in player contracts the NHL is seeking something akin to IOC Top Sponsor status that would allow the league to market the Winter Games on its platforms.

The NHL has also said the IOC will have to backtrack and pay player insurance and transportation costs after saying it would no longer do so like it had for the five previous Winter Games.

“We’re not negotiating publicly,” said Bettman. “The point is I was trying to emphasize the fact that this is terribly disruptive to our business and there seems to be no offsetting way to mitigate that disruption.

“I’ve suggested why don’t you treat us like a top sponsor.

“When the IOC comes to us and says, ‘by the way we know it cost $15 to $20 million to send your players between insurance, charter costs and accommodations for the players’ … well we’re not going to pay for that.

“If they don’t value our participation why are we going.”

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The NHL did not agree to go to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi until July, 2013. The next move, if there is one, will have to be made by the IOC or IIHF.

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“From our standpoint there may not be any next steps,” said Bettman.

While NHL owners have dug in, the IOC and IIHF have both the players and sponsors in their corner applying pressure.

Some players have said they will compete in the Olympics regardless of the NHL‘s decision, while Japanese tire maker Bridgestone, which is both an IOC Top Sponsor and major NHLadvertiser, is trying to help push a deal forward.

“Just know there’s a lot of people interested in the same thing and seeing if there is a way to make it work,” Phil Pacsi, Bridgestone’s vice president of sports marketing, told Reuters.

After participating in each of the last five Winter Games, Bettman said there has been no quantitative benefit to the NHL.

That would be amplified at Pyeongchang, a non-hockey market where games would be televised early in the morning in North America during what would otherwise be a key part of the NHL‘s regular season.

“Remember, this is February, there is no baseball, no football, it is just us and basketball and we just disappear,” said Bettman. “We don’t get content for the NHL Network, we don’t get content for our social media platforms and

“Why did we do it five times? Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time but we have been unable to quantify any benefit from it.”


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