About BTiell Sports Reports

Dr. Bonnie Tiell writes a monthly column for the Tiffin Advertiser Tribune Sports Department (http://www.advertiser-tribune.com/). This blog archives each column and dates back to the 2008 Olympic Academic Experience in Beijing, China. Check out the Blog Archives to read more. Check out info about the TU Olympic Academic Experience at http://www.tuolympics.blogspot.com/ and contact Dr. Tiell at btiell@tiffin.edu

Sunday, May 2, 2010

MARCH 2010 - NHL Blue Jackets Visit Tiffin University ....Say It Isn't So-Chi!

Only a handful of the 120 plus Tiffin University students who attended a presentation by front office personnel from the NHL Blue Jackets had ever attended a live professional hockey game. Almost every hand rose when asked who saw any part of the Olympic gold medal game between Canada and the US the week prior.

With attention like that from the mainstream public, how can the NHL afford not to take another break for the 2014 Games in Sochi Russia? That sentiment is exactly what J.D. and Kimberly Kershaw noted in highlighting the business of professional sports. Serving as the Director of Marketing and Fan Development and the Director of Event Production for the NHL Blue Jackets, the married couple worked and freelanced several years with NHL International when headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland. JD is Canadian and great friends with the Ohio State Men’s Hockey Coach. Kimberly is a former NFL Dancer with production experience for numerous pro franchises. The power duo offered interesting perspectives on the NHL and Olympic Hockey.

First, the IOC has little control over the NHL who is threatening to pull out of Sochi if media attention doesn’t improve. Even though ratings for a number of Olympic broadcasts were higher than regular NHL games (no huge surprise), exposure was primarily on affiliate stations such as MNBC. The good news is that only the 1980 Olympic gold medal game (following the Miracle on Ice) had a bigger draw than the 2010 US-Canadian showdown in Vancouver. The NHL can’t throw away that exposure.

Despite the benefits, the NHL isn’t keen on breaking 15 days to travel over a handful of time zones, risk injury, and not have a slice of the 2014 Olympic broadcast pie. The league also has a point of contention about the lack of game coverage on main networks since NBC seemed to favor ice dancing and curling action during prime time.

The Kershaws also offered perspectives on the IOC’s reign over women’s hockey especially after the Canadian women’s Gold Medal team took to the ice wheeling cigars, champagne, and beer during media photos in an empty arena (all fans had departed). Nevertheless, Canada’s post-championship celebration which included an underage player didn’t do much to win over the IOC. That 18-year-old player just happened to score both goals in the 2-0 victory but the overall celebration was cited as not being “good promotion of sport values”.

What would the IOC reaction been if the men’s team had displayed the same celebratory activities? Certainly underage consumption would never be condoned, but one could only imagine how the conservative IOC would view a group of men drinking beer and smoking cigars a bit differently than a group of women doing the same. IOC President Jacques Roggue also took to badgering women’s hockey for the lack of competitiveness leaving many to speculate whether it will face the same fate as Olympic softball. The threat to kick the sport out has been very real, but as one of the few winter Olympic team sports for women, its absence would be a striking blow to gender equity. Canada and the United States have dominated women's hockey since it debuted at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano and lopsided double-digit victories are not uncommon. It can be well argued that there wasn’t much difference when the men's game debuted in 1924 and the Canadians outscored their opposition 122-3. The gap narrowed to only 55-9 at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin where Adolf Hitler reigned. It actually took eight Olympics before a third country could step up on the podium for gold.

There is more to Roggue, the rugby-loving Olympic boss who had quite the influence on his former sport becoming the new Olympic event in Rio for the 2016 summer Games. Softball was essentially locked out by golf and rugby. Roggue is a former rugby national team player for Belgium. Go figure.

So…or So-Chi. The host city in Russia will have its hands full with Roggue still on board for the 2014 winter Olympics. For now, women’s hockey will still take to the ice, but questions remain whether the men’s side will include its NHL stars. The other question on hand is how the Russians will fare on their home soil given the dismal performance in Vancouver (the country earned only 15 medals and ranked 11th in the gold medal count).

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called for sports officials such as the Minister of Sport and the Olympic Committee Chief to step down after the lukewarm appearance at Canada’s party. But, Sochi just surpassed $1 billion in corporate sponsorships which has to keep some of the Host City Organizing Committee around. Can you imagine what $1 billion can do to rebuild Haiti or feed regions of Africa or help fight poverty in the United States?

Indeed, Vancouver and the 2010 winter Olympics offered great excitement for sport fans around the world. It was a bit disappointing to hear Apolo Ohno chastise a Canadian ref as “biased” when he was rightfully disqualified from the 500 meters for an obvious obstruction, but it was more than heartwarming to watch Canadian Joannie Rochette skate and win a bronze medal less than two days after her mother died. The thrill of victory and agony of defeat hit big on the rating scales and as always, the Games provided examples of global competition which inspire dreams and elicit hope among the biggest and smallest of countries.

As the winter Olympics bid farewell, the boys of summer float into spring training and college hoops falls into its usual pattern of March Madness. Stay tune – there’s bound to be plenty of interesting sport controversies to report on next month!

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