Why It's Important for NHL Players to Compete in 2014 Winter Olympics
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NHL players will be competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics, and it's key for the growth of their sport that they do so.
The July 19 announcement that NHL players would be participating in the Olympics for the fifth consecutive games was great news for the sport.
Hockey isn't quite the global sport that soccer or basketball is, and part of the reason why is because of the up-and-down popularity of its best league, the NHL. The only way for the game to grow is if the best players play it on the world stage.
The NHL has the best players in the world and yet is an afterthought when it comes to American sports.
It's important that NHL players compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics because they are the best players in the game, it will help grow the popularity of the sport, and it will make the games more exciting to watch.
NHL Players Are the Best Players in the Game
The NHL is the best hockey league in the world because it has the best players in the world. It only makes sense, then, that those NHL players compete in the Olympic Games.
The KHL in Russia and the SEL in Sweden are both very respectable leagues, but their caliber of player can't match the NHL's top to bottom.
Looking back at Sweden's roster from 2006, it's easy to see how the Swedes won the gold.
They were led by a group of veteran NHL stars. Henrik Zetterberg, Peter Forsberg, Daniel Alfredsson and the Sedin twins are just a few of the NHL players who played for Sweden that year.
They were also led in goal by a guy named Henrik Lundqvist. He's not too shabby.
The point of all this is simple: Each country needs its best players when the Olympics roll around, and those players come from the NHL.
While it's impossible to know what would happen if NHL players didn't compete, there is an argument to be made that most of the gold-medal winners over the past few years, which relied heavily on NHL talent, may not have ended on top.
It Helps Grow the Popularity of the Sport
The NHL has seen its popularity go up and down over the past few years due to multiple lockouts.
Last year's postseason, however, might have saved the sport.
Jesse Lawrence of Forbes.com reported that the 2012 NHL Playoffs saw a spike in television ratings and ticket prices, both good signs for the sport's growth:
While the stars are more visible at NBA games, both on the court and in the stands, the day-in-day-out demand for NHL is significantly higher than the NBA. The average price for tickets across the NHL in 2013 was 18.6% higher than in the NBA–$147 vs. $123. In the NHL, 16 of 32 teams filled their venues at or over 100% capacity for the season. In the NBA, only six teams could say the same. As a country, we covet speed and power above all else. With 100-mile hour slapshots and two hundred pound men skating at over 20 miles-per-hour, hockey, not basketball, would seem to be our preferred winter sport. Based on the ultimate measure of demand—what people are willing to pay to see it live–that appears to be the case.
With the NHL's popularity on the rise, it's vital that its stars participate in the Olympics.
The NHL can capitalize on this world stage to grow its brand. Fans from every country will get to see the type of talent the NHL has and, if they aren't fans already, may start to follow the league.
The Olympics are also a great time to grow the league through attracting young athletes to the sport.
Young boys and girls from around the world will get to see the best players in the world play the game and could be inspired to play themselves.
This wouldn't be possible if NHL players weren't playing.
The Games Are More Exciting to Watch
If NHL players weren't playing in the 2014 Olympics, the games wouldn't be as exciting to watch.
ESPN.com reported that Canada's 3-2 overtime victory over the USA to win the gold in 2010 shattered records for viewership. The gold-medal game was the most watched hockey game since the year Team USA beat Finland to complete the "Miracle on Ice." It drew 34.8 million people to their televisions to watch the matchup.
While the game would have been exciting if NHL players had played or not, it's easy to say a lot fewer than 34.8 million would have tuned in if Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane and Eric Staal weren't playing.
Should NHL Players Compete in the Olympic Games?
Hockey in itself is an exciting sport to watch, but if the best players in the world aren't playing and few fans know who is on the roster, the excitement level drops.
Hockey fans love hockey and will watch a pickup game on a pond if it's all that's available to them. Casual fans, however, want name recognition and to be able to see the game at its highest level.
That's why it's important for NHL players to compete in the Olympics. Those fans who are perhaps watching hockey for the first time can recognize the names of stars and get excited to see them play.
The games are more fun and exciting to watch if fans know who the players are.
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