For the next four years, NBC has held on to the rights for the Olympic Games. The IOC announced the deal on Tuesday, and reports have said that NBC and Comcast are paying $4 billion for the rights to the Games through the year 2020.
That means the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, as well as the 2018 Winter Games at a location to be determined, will be broadcast on NBC's family of networks. For the NHL, this news means that it's much more likely that they appease their own television partner and send their players to those Winter Games.
The Olympics are a great showcase for hockey, and every four years, we hear players talk about winning gold as if it's just as important as the Stanley Cup. For many of those NHL players who participate in the Olympics, it is just as important or even more important than the NHL's prized trophy.
But for Gary Bettman, the Olympics are all about business. Is it smart for the NHL to keep sending its players to the Games, interrupting the NHL season for two weeks in February? There are plenty of considerations there -- what happens to team that are on a hot streak when the Olympic break comes, and then they wind up missing the playoffs? What happens when a star player gets injured in the Games and their NHL team suffers?
Bettman has never committed to the 2014 Games and has indicated in the past that the NHL could very well pull out of sending their players, which they've done every year since the Nagano Games in 1998.
For them, it's a matter of weighing the benefits with the risks. With the Games in Vancouver in 2010, the NHL basically had to send its players. Sidney Crosby playing for the Penguins instead of Team Canada, on Canadian soil, would have been a nightmare.
But with the Games moving to Russia in 2014, there's been a lot less certainty. After all, the time difference means that people in North America won't be able to watch the games live. Those benefits to the NHL quickly decrease in that case.
Russian stars, namely Alex Ovechkin, have been extremely vocal about the desire to have NHLers play in the Games, and he's even gone as far as to say he'd play in Sochi regardless of what the NHL decides. That would be another nightmare in itself for the league, but until now, it didn't seem like it'd make them budge.
At the same time, though, it didn't seem like NBC was going to earn the rights to the Games again after the departure of Dick Ebersol, the chief who has overseen NBC's Olympics coverage since the '90s. Now that the NHL and NBC are locked in as partners until 2021, there's a whole lot of mutual benefit involved.
Suddenly, it seems like the NHL is right back on course to participate in the Winter Olympics yet again. Alex Ovechkin could get his way after all.