2010 Olympic Games: The Aftermath

Today I have collaborated with Mike Tursi. Mike is a Penn State University Alum, Philadelphia native and hockey fan blogger for www.thehockeyherald.com & The Sports Twit Blog. You can follow Mike here: @TheSportsTwit

Mike and I are huge hockey fans, but more so, we’re sports fans in general. For this article, we’re going to discuss the influence of Olympic hockey and the impact it has with sports fans across America, and tackle the 2014 Sochi issue.

Patriotism can be a powerful thing. It brings people from all different walks of life together and joins them in a common goal.

This week, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver have drawn to a conclusion and Canada claimed gold. For host country, Canada, the Olympic hockey tournament is front and center of the 2010 Games. But, what impact has the sport had on the average sports fan that may not be in tune to the game of hockey, or the National Hockey League?

The numbers are mind-boggling. It was the third highest-rated hockey broadcast of all time, behind Miracle and then the Gold Medal Game in '80. It drew an average viewership of 27.6 million people and out drew every game of the 2009 World Series between Yankees and Phillies, each NBA Finals game, any Final Four game in 2009, The Grammy’s, Rose Bowl, Masters, Daytona 500 and earned a 17.6 rating.

We all read the sports sections of newspapers, ESPN’s of the world and watch newscasts on the television. In the last couple of years, hockey has been falling on the list of popular sporting events, to say the least. The game of hockey doesn’t get a smidgen of respect throughout America, and quite frankly it’s a shame. Though the United States fielded a team of NHL players for the Winter Games – many sports fans couldn’t even tell you more than three players on USA’s roster. They're the youngest team in the tournament and were not expected to medal. Not with powerhouses, Russia, Sweden and our big-bad neighboring nation, Canada in the mix.

But on last Sunday night, something happened.

The US team defeated the host country and seemed to open the doors and brought a nation along for its Olympic hockey run.

The Olympic Spirit and National pride was turning Americans on to Hockey. People who have never watched the game, or became disinterested in the sport years ago, were tuning in because their country was doing well. This led to them watching other hockey games in the Olympics and finding the game to be thrilling spectacle.

Sunday’s Gold Medal game did the same for fans across America, but can it stick with these sports fans during the NHL season? Only time will tell.

Hockey fans already knew this was going to be an entertaining tournament because the NHL has elected, once again, to shut down for two weeks and allow its players to compete for their home countries. But other sports fans have been turned on because they are getting a glimpse of how fantastic the game of hockey can be. Now, unfortunately, even outside of Sunday’s viewership, we can't say that this will lead to an increase in NHL viewing. After all, these are practically all-star teams out on the ice, the talent level will never be that condensed in an NHL game - but, if “Joe Sports Fans” curiosity has been peaked; like we hope it has, well, all the better for the game.

There may be a little boy out there watching the games with his Dad. That little boy may ask his Father for a hockey stick. And, together, they may become fans of the game of hockey.

So, if hockey at the Olympic Games has meant this much to Americans – and hockey fans all over the world– how is there any question whether to let NHL players compete in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia?

The impact that NHL Players are having on these Olympic Games is evident. Rosters overflowing with talent along with competitive balance have made this one of the best Winter Games since the NHL started sending its players to the Olympics back in 1998. But, did the surroundings of the 2010 Vancouver Games allow for this to be such a slam dunk? And, will the same impact be felt in four years when the games travel to Sochi?

We sure hope so.

With the success of the Games in Canada, and with so much talent on display, it would be hard to imagine that the NHL would even consider not sending their players to Sochi. But will the impact be the same when the games are half way around the world? Maybe not. Games will be forced to be broadcast in the early morning hours, due to the eight hour time difference and that’s not a great time for North American viewers.

And the bottom line is; Commissioner Gary Bettman will have the final say. And in the end, isn’t it all about the dollar sign, anyway?

If American’s don’t watch the games, it’s hard for Bettman to sell his product.

One could argue that streaming over the internet, which wasn't available during the Nagano Games, could eliminate that concern. But, at eight hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, most broadcasts will be aired during the late morning or early afternoon. And, that's just for the east coast, let alone the west coast.

Another concern for the NHL Players would be travel. This (2010 Games) was an easy trip for the players. With most of the facilities in a couple miles radius, there was minimum traveling. Lengthy travel could have an impact on their return to NHL lineups and could alter what is usually a tightly contested playoff push once the NHL Schedule resumes.

But, the NHL already opens the 2010-11 schedule in Europe in and is increasing the number of games over seas next season. So, it may not be such a drastic leap. After all, showcasing on a world stage is never a bad thing. The NHL is such a global game, more than the other major North American sports that it can only benefit from showing off its players regardless of where the competition is.

Thus, why we’ve saved the biggest obstacle for last; the fact that the NHL has to shutdown work for two-plus weeks, at perhaps the most important time of the season.

Teams are gelling together and getting all ready for the stretch run, games are starting to pick up playoff-type atmosphere, and let’s be honest; games are airing on NBC, the non-hockey fan is much more likely to watch a game on NBC as opposed to Versus because they think the game means more, once NBC starts airing games.

If the NHL is set on selling this product and benefiting from showing-off its players, I don’t think Sochi would be the best option. One could argue, why not X NHL players at Olympics and play a World Championship tournament in the summer, when there doesn’t have to be a work stoppage?

It’s a valid question, but after how successful these Games have been, every NHL player will want to be on the big stage in 2014.