WASHINGTON — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman appears ready to put his players’ commitment to the 2018 Winter Olympics to the test.
The league last met with the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation in February, though negotiations have since halted, and Bettman took a hard line on the issue of international competition Tuesday.
“There are no negotiations ongoing,” Bettman told Reuters at the Sport Business Summit in New York. “We were open to having discussions on a variety of things that might mitigate the damage to our season but that had no resonance.”
“As things stand now people should assume we are not going,” he said.
In previous years, as with the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the NHL has taken a break from competition — usually for a period of 2.5 weeks — for its players to compete for their home countries internationally.
Some NHL stars have already made clear their intentions to compete in the South Korea Games regardless of the league’s stance. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals said so very matter-of-factly last fall.
Money is the primary underlying issue, as the NHL, according to Reuters, seeks financial compensation — in the form of player insurance and transportation costs — from the IOC in return for handing over $3.5 billion in player contracts. The NHL also seeks sponsorship rights in what would allow the league to market the Winter Games on its platforms.
“We’re not negotiating publicly,” said Bettman. “The point is I was trying to emphasize the fact that this is terribly disruptive to our business and there seems to be no offsetting way to mitigate that disruption. I’ve suggested why don’t you treat us like a top sponsor.”
“When the IOC comes to us and says, ‘by the way, we know it cost $15 to $20 million to send your players between insurance, charter costs and accommodations for the players’ … well we’re not going to pay for that,” he added. “If they don’t value our participation, why are we going?”