NBC and the NHL have always had a great partnership. For NBC and more specifically NBCSN, the NHL gives the network a tentpole property that can provide valuable hours of programming from one of the big four North American professional sports leagues. For the NHL, NBC can provide the depth and consistency in coverage that they could never get from the likes of ESPN while they focus so much attention on the NFL and NBA.

The NHL-NBC marriage goes back over a decade now and while it’s been good for both sides, there might be some strain in the relationship right now. And it all has to deal with the NHL’s polarizing decision to skip the Winter Olympics in 2018 and not send their players over to Korea.

It’s an unfortunate decision for Olympic fans and hockey fans who want to see the world’s best represent their countries while playing for a gold medal. It also puts NBC in an interesting position of having to choose between two of their biggest partners. And they have made their choice loud and clear.

Via the New York Post comes the news that NBC has scheduled no NHL games to be televised during the Olympics and the peacock’s attention will fully be on what’s happening in Pyeongchang:

The NHL is refusing to send its athletes to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because the league does not want to go dark for nearly three mid-winter weeks. But you know that by now.

What you probably are not aware of, however, is the NHL nevertheless will go dark across all NBC platforms between Feb. 7-26, during the Games. Last season, NBC and NBCSN combined to telecast 20 NHL games over the comparable period.

This is a network decision that several industry sources in touch with Slap Shots over the past two weeks interpret as nothing less than the league’s U.S. national television rights-holder giving a symbolic middle finger to Gary Bettman and the Board of Governors for withholding its players from one of NBC’s most important properties.

If the entire point of the NHL skipping the Olympics is so that they don’t have to take a lengthy mid-season break… but there are no nationally televised games… doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having an uninterrupted season and not playing second fiddle to the Olympics?

Is this the proverbial “middle finger” to the NHL as the Post intimates? It definitely could be a not-so-subtle message from the league’s television partner that they aren’t happy about the NHL devaluing one of the major attractions of the Winter Olympics and hurting NBC’s product. Let’s face it, more people are probably going to be interested in the Olympic curling tournament than the hockey tournament next winter. It would be interesting to know what language exists exactly in the NHL-NBC contract because a major league going dark on its cable partner for nearly a month is fairly unprecedented. Perhaps NBC is under no obligation to air games given the NHL pulled out of the Olympics.

So then, maybe this is just business. After all, NBC pays a whole lot more money to the Olympics than the NHL. The latest contract for the Olympic rights is $7.75 billion over six games while the NHL deal is a mere $2 billion over ten years. Additionally, the Olympics will draw bigger ratings for NBC and NBCSN than the NHL could ever dream of doing. Four years ago figure skating and ski jumping set viewership records for NBCSN at the time during the last Winter Games.

Therefore, given the pure numbers, it’s understandable that given the choice between their two biggest partners, NBC and NBCSN would choose to focus on the Olympics over the NHL.

But wouldn’t you think NBC could air at least one game during those three weeks? Maybe even two? Given the 13 hour time difference on the opposite side of the world, you’re looking at primetime being filled with tape delay action all over the place. The fact that NBC won’t even air a single live NHL game during primetime up against the Olympics is less than encouraging for the league. And in a way, maybe it is a message from NBC that the league’s decision to skip the Olympics has more consequences than they originally imagined. Perhaps it’s a message to anyone else who partners with NBC that dissing the Olympics is probably the worst thing they could do.

[New York Post]

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

  • John Danknich

    I don’t think there’s much doubt this is a big middle finger to the NHL, though I wonder if this might end up being changed between now and February. Neither side looks particularly good in this whole mess.

    • Shawn Diiorio

      Why would NBC want to anger the NHL? Just because they did not want to play in games that will air at 2am live? The two have a solid relationship, and this decision should not damage that if both parties know what’s best for them.

  • “The NHL-NBC marriage goes back over a decade now”

    Not correct. NHL partnered with Comcast-owned Versus in 2006, but Comcast bought NBC only in 2011.

    • BK

      Um, Versus became NBCSN. Same thing.

    • Yosef Mordechai Coleman

      Um. NBC has been a partner since the lockout. NBC has had the network rights since the lockout of 2005 which is more than a decade ago.

    • Shawn Diiorio

      games have aired on NBC since 2006. They have aired on network TV.

      • Wow, my memory is worst than ever.

  • pattywagon – SEELE 01

    Good! I feel like the NHL is wrong about not allowing their players to compete in the Olympics since for one, many players seem to enjoy playing for their country. Two, the Olympics is great showcasing the best hockey players on a global scale in which I believe has helped grew the game a bit. Sadly I think it’s too late, but the NHL should allow the players to go. It’s fun for the fans, and great for the sport.

    • Shawn Diiorio

      Blame the IOC, it won’t ensure the players safety. The NHL could not afford to risk it. That’s all there is to it.

    • Walt_Gekko

      What the NHL has to balance is what happens if all go over and some player suffers a major injury? They have dodged a bullet, but if a key player is injured you’ll hear those fans on sports talk radio slam the NHL for allowing it.

      Other problem is taking a mid-winter break now would involve moving those games to April and that means the playoffs are delayed. That creates problems for teams that have to deal with arena conflicts (especially those that share arenas with NBA teams) and on top of that, many arenas are booked year-round with concerts, WNBA games and so forth that would in many cases have to be moved around and potentially create legal hassels for the NHL.

  • marcus813

    I hope that NHL Network will fill in the gaps so I can see more than just Lightning games. I doubt that Comcast would even have the resources to cover both the Winter Olympics and the NHL extensively on its national stations while both are going on concurrently. Comcast needs all of its national outlets for the Olympics alone.

  • David

    “you’re looking at primetime being filled with tape delay action all over the place”

    No you’re not. There’s figure skating and alpine skiing almost every night that will take place during US primetime. Not to mention curling going on almost every night that the cable networks could be showing.

  • BklynBirny

    NBC’s decision not surprising–they’re all in on Olympics. As a big-time NHL fan, I’m ecstatic about the league’s decision. The thought of them shutting down for 3 weeks–to accommodate the perverted fraud that are the modern day Olympics–would have been too painful to bear. And since local coverage of the NHL is far superior to NBC’s coverage, this is a win-win all around.

  • Daniel Ormsby

    I think the question you have to ask is what studio or commentators NBC would use. NBC will have Mike Emrick, Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire, etc. In Peyongchang. That leaves Cuthbert, Miller, and Comcast regional broadcasts that could call the game. However you then need a studio production team and operating crew. They’ll all be involved on the Olympics. In the end NBC doesn’t have a crew to do the NHL while the Olympics are occurring.

    And as for no national broadcasts, last time I checked NHL Network will still carry games. Technically their primary game is national. It should be changed to say no NBC games instead of no national ones.

  • kingRidiculous

    I thought the Olympics was for amateur athletes?

  • Shawn Diiorio

    Most of NBC’s TV coverage during the Olympics will be the Olympics, they likely will not air anything else in Prime Time. That’s it. and NHL Network will likely air plenty of games during those 2 weeks.

  • Bragar

    NBC sucks covering hockey anyway…

  • MrBull

    Just means big time ratings and more live games on the NHL network…plus, that NHL game package should pick more subscribers….

  • altfactor@hotmail.com

    Even though the NHL won’t shut down during the Olympic fortnight, I hope the league will make a last-minute decision to allow players to take a leave of absence with pay from their NHL clubs to go to South Korea.

    To make it fair, perhaps no more than seven players from any one team would be allowed to go to the Olympics, and no more than three players from the same team would be allowed to play for a particular country.

  • altfactor@hotmail.com

    It’s my understanding that with the NHL not competing in South Korea that NBC’s broadcast network will carry just one men’s hockey game: The championship game late on the night of February 24th (the final competitive event of the Olympiad) with other Team U.S.A. games on NBC’s cable sister networks.

    I have heard that all other men’s hockey games will only be streaming on the internet on the NBC Olympics website.

    Likewise, I have heard that the same setup will exist for the women’s tourney: NBC’s broadcast network will air only the championship game, NBC’s cable sister networks will air other U.S. games, but all other women’s games will be internet-only.

    By contrast, with the time difference, the long program in women’s figure-skating will air live in prime-time on the night of February 22nd, and that NBC that night will devote it’s entire four-hour prime-time show to it.