Gary Bettman: No evidence Olympics has improved NHL in North America

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said there’s no tangible, concrete evidence that Olympic participation since 1998 has benefited the NHL in North America.

“It hasn’t any impact,” Bettman said in a radio interview Wednesday. “We look at TV ratings, we look at attendance, we look at everything, and it’s been disruptive. Is it conceivable that in some places around the world, where they’re watching the Olympics, it might have a positive impact? I suppose, but I think back when we went to Nagano, Japan, [in 1998] the building that we played the event in, the day after the Olympics were over, they ripped out the ice.”

NHL officials have said there are no plans to participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games unless the status quo changes, but they haven’t made a final decision. They don’t want to take a break during their season to send players to the Olympics for a sixth straight time.

Bettman repeated some of the league’s concerns on Wednesday.

“We don’t even get the opportunity to promote the fact that we’re at the Olympics,” he said. “We don’t get to use the [Olympic] rings. I’ve said to the IOC, you know, Coca-Cola is a sponsor, they get to promote their association and say proud sponsor of the Olympics. They won’t let us do that, and we would lend player contracts worth something like $3.5 billion for those 17 days. There’s no recognition of the value by the IOC and the IIHF that we bring to the Olympics.

“To do it when there’s no football, and there’s no baseball, it’s really just us and basketball, and to get really no benefit of it. I’m not talking about compensation. We can’t market or promote that we’re there. We’re just there. And the IOC and the IIHF seem to be of the opinion that we should just be there, and whatever it takes, it takes.”

Four years ago, the NHL didn’t announce until seven months before the Sochi Olympics that it was participating in those Winter Games. But the NHL and Olympic officials had a handshake agreement one year before Sochi, according to Sportsnet.

“I understand why the Olympics want us there,” Bettman said Wednesday. “In terms of hours of TV programming in the Winter Olympics. In terms of most number of tickets sold for a sport in the Winter Olympics, hockey dominates.”

Bettman has cited owner fatigue, even negativity after five Olympics. Plus the 14-hour time difference from New York to PyeongChang, making for some Olympic games take place during the early morning for U.S. viewers.

“The world has changed since we started going, having our own network, having our own website,” Bettman said. “All of the things that we do with our fans, social media, on a daily basis, poof, we disappear. Because the IOC doesn’t let us do anything.”

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