The NHL and the International Olympic Committee were unable to secure an expanded media rights deal for the 2022 Winter Olympics, but the league still intends to send its players to Beijing, sources told ESPN.
In its new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NHL agreed to let players participate in the 2022 Beijing Games and 2026 Milan Games contingent on securing agreements with the IOC and IIHF. The 2021-22 regular-season schedule was released with an Olympic break from Feb. 7-22. Talks remain ongoing between the NHL, NHLPA, IIHF and IOC. While no final agreement is imminent, there has been positive momentum towards a resolution for several weeks.
If and when that final deal is announced, it will not include expanded media and marketing rights for the NHL, which had been a goal for the last decade. The NHL was denied “Top Sponsor Status” for the 2018 PyeongChang Games, which would have allowed its website and NHL Network to have content from the Games. It was one of the stated reasons why the league opted not to send its players to those Winter Olympics, among other financial considerations.
While the NHL loaned its players to the Olympics from 1998 through 2018, it hasn’t been able to own highlights of their exploits on the ice. For example, Sidney Crosby’s “golden goal” in 2010 and T. J. Oshie’s shootout exploits against Russia in 2014 are nowhere to be found in NHL video highlights on air or online.
The NHL also did not make many inroads in getting its advertising and logos into the Games. The IOC had held firm on all of these marketing rights, fearing that other professional leagues will make the same requests for their athletes at the Olympics.
According to one source, the NHL lost leverage in these matters when it left NBC, which airs the Winter Olympics, in its new rightsholder deal with ESPN and Turner Sports.
Still, there have been positive signs that an agreement is forthcoming. ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reported that the NHL has found a provider for COVID insurance for players, and details on insurance are being negotiated with the NHLPA.
However, the NHL and the NHLPA “retain full authority to decide not to participate should COVID-19 conditions worsen or otherwise pose a threat to the health and safety of NHL players.” If the players end up not participating in the Beijing Games, the league will release a revised 2021-22 schedule that will try to adhere to the released one as much as possible.