The Branding Implications Behind the NHL’s Decision to Pull Out of the 2018 Olympics

On Monday afternoon, the NHL finally made the announcement hockey fans everywhere were anxious for. It was not however the result they wanted. The league finally took a hard stance against allowing their players to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The main issue the league has is that players participation in the winter games causes league play to come to a halt for two weeks; something team owners are reluctant to give up. The owners were asking the IOC and the NHLPA for some type of concessions to make up for the lack of revenue being generated during that time period however, negotiations had lost all forward momentum.

What was most interesting about this decision is the fact that just last week the league announced that they will be playing two preseason games in Beijing in September with hopes to try to expand the game globally. The fact that the 2022 Winter Olympics happen to be placed in Beijing now seems like a mere coincidence rather than strategic move.

The IOC went on the defensive after the announcement stating that the NHL’s invitation to participate in the 2022 games is completely contingent on their participation in the 2018 games.

If the expansion of global interest in the game of hockey is truly a major goal for the NHL, then why would they decide to back out of the biggest international stage the game is played on?

The Olympics would give the NHL the platform to turn a non-fan of the game to a casual fan and casual fans into diehards. It gives people the chance to root for players they normally wouldn’t get the chance to watch. Along with that, viewers are given the opportunity to learn about the players backgrounds and see them on a personal level that is not always showcased nationally. Fans would have the chance to make personal connections that could help spring their level of fandom to an altitude that watching a regular season NHL game simply will not do.

Although this decision seems solidified, what are some solutions to the problem? Perhaps the owners should look at the empty two week schedule as an opportunity to bring in other events and attractions. The arenas these teams play in are not restricted to just hockey games after all. They are multi-purpose facilities capable of hosting a number of events. Why cant owners look to fill up the void of hockey games with more concerts?

Would it be feasible for the IOC to offer the NHL deals on sponsorship packages during the games to help further promote the league? Both entities happen to already broadcast their events through NBC. The broadcasting company surely would prefer to have the NHL’s best playing to help generate more interest in the games. Conceivably, NBC could act as a liaison between the two sides to see if some type deal could be salvaged.

On top of not being able to represent their country, the players have been barred from the ability to positively impact their own personal brand. In the 2014 Winter games in Sochi, T.J Oshie went from relative unknown to the general sports fan to an American hero virtually overnight. No matter how great the NHL playoffs are, the ability to catapult a players brand to that type of status lies solely with the Olympics. This type of elevation, although it wouldn’t be in NHL games, does nothing but help the brand of the league itself. The NHL should be using the winter games as a vehicle to drive interest in their players and the game of hockey.

Despite this decision, the NHL does not have a solution yet regarding individual players who make the choice to play in the games regardless. Not only has Alexander Ovechkin already stated that he will play anyways, Capitals Owner Ted Leonis already stated back in December that he would support his star player in going to PyeongChang no matter the stance the NHL took. It will be interesting to see just how many players adopt this same philosophy as Ovechkin going forward.



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