Senior officials from the NHL have said the North American ice hockey league is likely to pass on participating in the 2018 winter Olympic Games unless there is major movement in talks, while the prospect of introducing jersey sponsorship has also been dismissed.
NHL executives provided the latest update on the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea during the league’s All-Star weekend in Los Angeles. The NHL is yet to agree a deal with the NHL Players Association (NHLPA), the representative body for professionals in the league, that would allow players to take part at next year’s Games.
Last month, the NHLPA rejected a proposal from the league, under which players would be cleared to compete, if the representative body agreed to extend the current collective bargaining agreement in place between the two entities by three years until 2025. The current eight-year deal includes an opt-out option which activates in 2019, but last month’s proposal did not include such a clause. “If the status quo remains, I don't expect us to be in the Olympics,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said at the weekend.
The league and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) have no firm deadline to decide on whether NHL players will participate in their sixth consecutive Olympics, with squabbles over covering costs having been common in the build-up to Games since the NHL’s first Olympics in 1998.
While the IIHF is said to have now found the money to cover the costs of competing in Pyeongchang, the NHL has multiple concerns over shutting down its season for three weeks, exposing its star players to injury and playing in a market that isn’t a hotbed for the sport.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said the issue “got about 10 seconds of discussion” at a board meeting on Saturday because nothing has changed. “I think the realities of Olympic participation are more apparent to our board now, and I think it just leads to less enthusiasm about the disruption,” Daly added, according to the Associated Press news agency.
“Quite frankly, we don't see what the benefit is from … the league standpoint anyway with respect to league participation, so that's the challenge. As Gary said numerous times, if there was a compelling reason that we could bring to the board that this is something we should do again in Korea, then we present it to the board and see what they would have to say.”
Meanwhile, Bettman has played down the prospect of the NHL following the lead of the NBA basketball league and adopting jersey sponsorship. NBA franchise the Boston Celtics last week agreed a jersey sponsorship deal with digital industrial company GE.
The multi-year deal begins with the 2017-18 NBA season and is reported to be worth more than $7m (€6.5m) per year. The Celtics became the third NBA outfit to commit to a jersey sponsorship deal for the 2017-18 season after the Philadelphia 76ers teamed up with online ticket exchange StubHub and the Sacramento Kings struck a deal with almond brand Blue Diamond Growers.
The NBA announced last April that teams would be permitted to agree jersey sponsorship deals as part of a three-year pilot programme spanning the 2017-18 to 2019-20 seasons. However, Bettman said: “It's not an active discussion among NHL clubs. We take great pride in our sweaters. We think they're the best in all of sports, and that's not something we're running off to do.
“I always said we wouldn't be first … It would take an unusual circumstance, which I would define as a lot of money that I'm having trouble comprehending right now, for us to even be thinking about it. We think what we have is special. We talk about history and tradition and how special hockey jerseys are. We're not looking to put advertising on our sweaters.”