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The Future of International Hockey Has Major Television Implications

NHL LogoA handful of stories are out today discussing the NHL and NHL Players Association collective bargaining talks, with much of the response focusing on whether the NHL will continue to support the Olympics, and sending its star players to the games.

The Ottawa Citizen begins its take with a look back at the riveting gold-medal game from the Vancouver Olympics:

This was made-for-TV movie stuff – a Canada-USA final, with the host Canadian team squeaking out the gold-medal victory on an overtime goal by Sidney Crosby, and television ratings through the roof, even in the United States. Here at home, 80 per cent of Canadians were tuned in to at least part of the broadcast. Probably 100 per cent will say they watched.

That is at the heart of the issue as it relates to sports media. Without the top players in the world competing, the tournament becomes more a crapshoot. Look no further than baseball: MLB does not let its players play in the Olympics, so the sport became something of an afterthought at the games. Finally the IOC just dumped it altogether.

Of course the IOC will not be dumping hockey anytime soon, even if the NHL and its players choose not to participate. The relative paucity of winter sports seems set to ensure that.

Elsewhere, in the Montreal Gazette, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke outlines what his vision would be for international hockey competition: resurrecting hockey’s World Cup.

Staging a late-summer World Cup gives the best opportunity to grow the game in the 24/7/365 era of competing entertainment options. Fresh, local hockey news will come to fans with a patriotic flavour right when football (NFL, CFL and college in the U.S. and Canada) and soccer (EPL, GFL, La Liga and Lega A in Europe) seasons are just gearing up.

NHL owners will not shut down their businesses mid-season, teams, fans and players do not have to shoulder in-season injury risks and post-tournament slumps, and players can earn some additional income and use the tournament to prepare for the upcoming season.

With regards to the Olympics, Burke’s suggestions is a bit more far-fetched. He suggests that hockey still be played, but that it be moved to the Summer Olympics. That won’t happen, and even he acknowledges as such.

Hockey is huge in Canada, and big in the U.S., but if it wants to grow it needs more moments like the final earlier this year. Real drama, on an international scale. A hockey world cup might be nice, but it will not draw the attention that the Olympics does.

What will the NHL and NHLPA do? We will find out soon enough.

(h/t SBD)

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