What has long been rumored appears to finally be a reality. The NHL-sponsored World Cup of Hockey is expected make its return in September of 2016 and will be held in Toronto according to Chris Johnston of Sportsnet. The event, which was held twice – once in 1996 and again in 2004 – was expected to return as the NHL looked to expand its presence in international hockey, while also having more control of it and creating another revenue stream.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made mention of the event in his annual address prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, but did not confirm that the event was finalized, stating that the league had to speak again with representatives from the NHLPA.
The NHL and NHL Players' Association are currently working on the final details of an agreement that will fill out the international calendar for the next several years and believe that the Air Canada Centre is the ideal location to relaunch the World Cup, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions.
In the future, it is believed that cities around the world might be subjected to a bidding process for the event, which one source indicated could generate as much as $100-million in revenue for the league and players.
That's a big number Johnston is reporting for a high end of revenue. So it's no wonder the league wants to do it. That they're doing it in 2016, two years out from an Olympic year leaves the NHL's options open should they choose to return to the Olympics.
Bettman said Wednesday that the NHL's board of governors has not yet discussed Olympic participation, noting that the World Cup was discussed independent of the Olympics.
His comments with the media prior to Game 1 also made it sound pretty imminent. Here's his full comment on the looming decision:
"[The World Cup is] not something that's fully baked," he said. "As you know, World Cups and international competitions are something we do jointly with the Players' Association. While we're having very substantive discussions about what the possibilities are, what the World Cup might look like, how it should be done, whether we're looking at a series of World Cups, is something that we're not yet in a position where we're comfortable making any announcements. Even if we announced that we were doing a World Cup, for example, in '16, the fact of the matter is you then have 20 follow-up questions about how it would work, what the different issues were, how they'd be addressed.
"I think we want to get to a position where we and the Players' Association are comfortable that we're in agreement on all of those issues. That's something that we have been working on and we will continue to work on."
If the details are all that's left to work out, this is pretty much happening.
This could be an exciting event if it goes right and holding it in Toronto for a re-launch is not a bad decision in the least. Going right to a hockey-mad city to make sure this event has legs is obviously the right choice, should the report hold up.
The 1996 World Cup of Hockey, held mainly as a preview for the NHL's participation in the 1998 Olympics, was a huge success, drawing big crowds to NHL buildings in months where they are usually empty. It didn't hurt that Team USA won, energizing an American fan base prior to the NHL season. The 2004 event was not as widely accepted, however, and has largely been forgotten by many a hockey fan.
With the growing appetite for international hockey thanks to the excitement generated by the last two Olympics, this seems like a great time to get back in the World Cup game for the NHL. It really could become a marquee event and if it gains enough traction, it could spell the end of NHL participation at the Olympics, which is believed to be the preferred route of the owners.
If the NHL can generate their own money from something like this and engage casual fans, it's great. If it doesn't, the Olympics remains the best way to connect with the casual sports fan in the hopes of attracting more of them from the Olympics to the NHL.
This will be interesting to watch, but if nothing else, it's a really good experiment for the NHL to take on.