NHL banning players from Winter Olympics drastically affects NBC's hockey ratings

The NHL's decision to ban players from representing their countries during the Olympics was a head scratcher. It flew in the face of the league's agenda to expand the sport's international footprint, and it forced Team USA to build a team from scratch in less than a year. The results were predictable. NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus just confirmed what everyone already knew: The lack of the NHL has hurt Olympic hockey viewership.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Lazarus was blunt when he was asked how much the NHL withdrawing affected hockey viewership.

"A bit," he said. "It is early in the men's tournament and we have not seen the big games yet but we are off roughly in the high 20s or low 30s. It has been affected. The windows are pretty similar so it is close to an apples to apples comparison. Listen, I think it is bad for hockey everywhere. Our numbers are off and if you look at the RSN numbers for every NHL team over this week-long period, at least when I looked at it, all but two teams were off versus a year ago in this window. So it is not good for anybody's hockey ratings."

The tricky thing here, of course, is that other factors may well be at play. The games not being broadcast live during primetime likely has an effect. Where Sochi, for example, was eight hours ahead of eastern time, Pyeongchang is 14 hours. It's a notable difference, and it affects broadcasts. Lazarus mentioned the difference in viewership from Sochi to Pyeongchang in the interview.

"We are off 6 percent in primetime but we are up in what we are calling prime-pluswhat you would historically know as late night, is up 28 percent," he said to SI. "Our streaming numbers are through the roof. Media consumption has changed a lot and what the Olympics has shown is a resiliency over a four-year period that I think is unmatched in primetime television given the decline collectively the broadcast networks have seen in the primetime window."

The real problem here, of course, is that the NHL isn't benefiting from running alongside the Olympics. As Lazarus noted, every NHL team's ratings have suffered except for two. So while injuries or taking a break in the middle of the season may be a concern, the NHL is suffering during a key stretch of its regular season.

It's a shame, because it's exciting for those that get opportunities to go. But the fact is, the hockey isn't as good. And people are less likely to tune it for subpar hockey. If Team USA miraculously makes it to a medal game, then we'll undoubtedly see an uptick in viewership. However, if its games against competitive teams are any indication, that will be difficult. Perhaps the team can pull off a Miracle 2.0. If it doesn't, however, the NHL may need to evaluate its stance on letting its players play internationally.

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