As we sit on the verge of the Stanley Cup final, also know that we are 32 weeks away from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
It appears there is still a genuine willingness of the IOC, NHL, NHLPA and the IIHF to work together towards an agreement that sees the best players in the game play in the Olympics. However, as of this date, there is no deal. And almost as if they are reading from the same script, all involved say the same thing.
“But the deal will get done.”
But here’s the problem. There is no deal, yet. People on three sides, (the league, the union and the federation) all say the deal will get done, but it still isn’t done.
And while all the parties have a draft proposal, in front of them, there is no deal.
So how did we get here?
Firstly, major issues of insurance and travel appear to be resolved, or close to it. After all, that’s just the hard costs of doing business. The NHL’s request for increased access for it’s own media platforms appears also to be resolved. I’m told, the credit in gaining that access beyond the IOC should go to NBC. The NHL’s long-term partner, is also a major associate of the Olympic Committee. What’s good for the games, and good for the NHL is also good for NBC. Creating, and allowing, for opportunities for NHL.com and NHL Network in the United States only will enhance the game, and hopefully pay dividends in Sochi and beyond for NBC. This is a classic win-win-win situation.
It was suggested to me last week that two other issues are part of a chain of events tied to getting the Olympic deal done. One of them, the transfer agreements between all the European Hockey Federations, except Russia, and the NHL (fees for access to players) is also being down played as a parallel negotiation and not directly in conflict with Olympic negotiations. The other, may be a little more significant.
“But, the deal will get done.”
The National Hockey League has always been trying to advance its brand in Europe. Premiere games and GameCenter Live have begun to make inroads into hockey hot beds of Scandinavia, however the league has yet to capitalize in Russia, the home of the KHL and a massive television population. A domestic television deal in Russia could be worth millions of dollars, maybe over $100-million, in rights fees. A league source has acknowledged that a Russian television deal is very important to the NHL, and has been broached as part of the Olympic discussion.
There is hope that a negotiated deal can be put in place in the next two weeks, before it would be ratified at the NHL Board of Governors meeting in New York City on June 27. But we’ve seen other deadlines come and go before. IIHF president Rene Fasel was hopeful of a deal by mid May at the World Championships, and despite multiple meetings with key players, nothing was resolved. And speaking of those multiple meetings, how many have there really been with all the key players? Quite frankly, there haven’t been enough. I’m told that numerous small meetings with some key constituents have taken place, but in fact there have been only two sessions that have occurred with all the major players in the discussion.
And while the countdown to Sochi is still in the triple-digit stage, the Olympics are like an object in the rear view mirror of your car — “it may be closer than it appears.” Both Hockey Canada and USA Hockey are still waiting to contact players and name coaches. The training camps (last week in August for Canada and third week in August for USA) are on hold for now, until an agreement can be made.
And then there’s the issue of the league and its players. It’s well known that much of the logistics and hosting will be handled by the NHLPA logistic group. They have made at least three trips to Sochi, to examine the venues and hotels. They have been the lead group in budgeting the charter flights. But still, there is such distrust between the two sides coming out of the lockout, that one has to wonder if it’s at all possible to put the hostilities aside to work together as one, and with the IOC and the IIHF.
And you also have to wonder, once this deal is complete, if there’s enough common good to discuss a long-term international plan that includes a world cup.
So, here we are, the second weekend of June 2013 and the Stanley Cup final and NHL Draft are distractions for the Sochi decision. The key people keep telling us not to worry about a deal that will send the players to Russia for the Olympics, and yet there is no agreement. And it appears for the life of me, that no one is really ready to sit down and commit to an agreement that works for all involved. That means compromise, and open, honest dialogue. And real, transparent negotiation.