It is a 14 hour time difference between the east coast and Pyeongchang, South Korea. That’s five more hours than the nine-hour difference that has fans waking up at all hours of the night to catch Olympic competition at the 2014 Winter Games.
Among other things, the time difference is one reason many think that Pyeongchang will be the first Olympics to not see the NHL send players to participate. However, with the potential for another terrific run by the US driving fans to their television sets, the NHL may need to reconsider their stance on pulling their players from Olympic competition.
The final decision on sending players to the Olympics is complicated. The NHL and NHLPA need to get together with the IOC and IIHF to line up everything from player insurance to the scheduling crunch that comes with a two-week shutdown of the league. But the benefit to the game and the league is massive.
After the US victory over Russia in the prelims, the game led the ABC National News. That’s a non-hockey network leading their national broadcast with NHL stars triumphing for the US. The re-run of overtime and the shootout drew massive numbers and TJ Oshie, Jonathan Quick and others have been all over programs like the Today show as the NHL’s players have taken the forefront for the second-straight Olympics.
That’s national exposure usually reserved for one-time visits of the Stanley Cup champs once the season wraps. This is in-season (sort of) exposure on national networks and from individuals (see Obama, Barack) who may usually cast hockey aside. Additionally, the potential for explosive growth in European countries is equally lucrative to the league. The NHL Premiere series capitalized on interest in the league in countries like Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic and the slight success of teams like Slovenia, Latvia and Switzerland (and their associated NHL stars) do nothing but raise the profile of the league overseas.
I certainly hope to see the NHL reestablish the World Cup competition during non-Olympic years despite the profile of that competition paling in comparison to that of the Olympic games. The World Cup would be a way to continue to draw on fans overseas and further establish the NHL as a global brand. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of Olympic participation.
After the old guard from the 1996 World Cup championship were put to pasture after a disappointing showing in Torino in 2006, the US is enjoying a resurgence as a world power on the ice. That resurgence should keep the Americans near the top of the Olympic tournament in 2018 and beyond, having the ability for American stars to drive fans to the sport can’t be ignored. Although the league’s owners don’t enjoy many of the risks and drawback associated with a two-week shutdown, the exposure gained by the league can’t be ignored.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking success at the Olympics will vault the NHL to the NFL’s stratosphere or drastically alter the league’s standing amongst the big four. However, the additional attention being paid to the team and players needs to be capitalized on. Both the summer and winter games are a worldwide spectacle that draws the eyes of even the most casual American sports fan to their TV. That is a market that’s typically unaware of what’s happening on the league’s rinks each night.
When the US – and to a lesser extent, the Canadians – is putting a quality product on the ice with the potential to steal the attention of the nation’s sports fans, why not ensure that the NHL’s best are the ones putting on that show?
It’s a long way for the league to agree on sending players to Pyeongchang and the time difference will make this year’s 7:30 seem like matinee’s; but the opportunity to further promote the players and the sport is something the NHL’s executives, owners and players shouldn’t overlook as preparations for 2018 take shape.