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Sochi 2014: Women's Hockey Survives Because it Makes Money

Since the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) Women's World Hockey Championships began in 1990, only two countries have competed for the title. In fact, it's always puzzled me as to why Canadians continue to get so worked up over a success story that only involves two teams? The reason women's hockey is still in the Olympics is money.

Since the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) Women's World Hockey Championships began in 1990, only two countries have competed for the title. Fifteen straight championship finals between Canada and the USA. Canada has won ten of those, but the USA has won five of the last seven world titles.

Women's hockey at the Olympics debuted in 1998 in Nagano, Japan. The USA were the first to strike gold. The USA and Canada played in three of the four gold medal games. Canada has won gold in the last three Olympics.

Former IOC President Jacques Rogge gave serious consideration to dropping women's hockey from the Olympics for one simple reason. With only two countries competing for either the World Championship or the Olympic gold over the last 24 years, it can't be called a competition.

In fact its always puzzled me as to why Canadians continue to get so worked up over a success story that only involves two teams? This is not to criticize the women's commitment to training and their sport. Their dedication is clear. But the reason why women's hockey is still in the Olympics is money. And the Americans provide most of it.

Since their first telecast in 1960, the Olympic games have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with television. TV has popularized the event to the point that the global audience is now estimated at one billion viewers.

Over the years, however, American television networks have become mired in a high-stakes bidding war for broadcast rights. The stiff competition has kept rights fees inordinately expensive and, as a result, America contributes much more money than any other country to support the Olympics.

In 1996, for instance, the summer games in Atlanta were priced at $456 million, a figure that did not include the cost of the production itself, which has been estimated at another $150 million. All of the Western European nations combined paid $250 million in fees for the same games.

NBC paid the International Olympic Committee a record $1.18 billion for the U.S. broadcast rights to the 2012 London Games and $4.38 billion for the four Olympics from 2014-2020. It paid $775 million for the Sochi games. They've already sold $800 million in ads and are on track to sell over a billion dollars in ads.

That's a lot of bread. And the big player says what goes. The US women's hockey team is starting to dominate the (two country) sport. Americans like to watch their own win. So the game stays.

The conditions now surrounding the televised contests derive from increased attention to the Olympics that began in the late 1960s. The games first attracted a significant television audience during the 1968 summer games when Roone Arledge was at the helm of ABC Sports. The combination of his in-depth, personalized approach to sports broadcasting (embodied by ABC's Wide World of Sports) and the technological advances in the field, such as satellite feeds and videotape, set the standard for Olympic telecasts.

Utilizing inventive graphics and personal profiles of the athletes, Arledge slated forty-four hours of coverage, three times as many hours as the previous summer games. He packaged a dramatic, exciting miniseries for the television audience and successive producers have continued to expand on his model.

The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany showed further growth in costs and coverage. However, the drama of the games was overshadowed by the grisly murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the hands of Palestinian terrorists. Viewers watched in horror as the events of the 5th and 6th September massacre unfolded, and television turned into an international forum for the extremist politics of the Black September Organization. This event provided the single worst tragedy in the history of sports broadcasting.

The Olympics have also given American television sports some of its most glorious moments and endearing heroes. Few will ever forget the U.S. hockey team's thrilling victory over the Soviets in 1980, Nadia Comenici's perfect performances. Canadians remember Donovan Bailey in 1996. It helped diminish the bitterness of the Ben Johnson drug scandal in Seoul in 1988.

And Vancouver was a seminal moment in Canada's history as Canadian athletes finally erased the dubious dishonour of never having won a gold medal on home soil by wining 14 of them. Aside from catapulting the athletes to media stardom, the Olympic games are a ratings boon for their host network. Customarily, that network captures 50 per cent of the television audience each night for the two-and-a-half weeks of the Olympic telecast.

Furthermore, this habitual pattern establishes a relationship between the viewers and the network which translates into increased ratings for regularly scheduled programming. This springboard into the new season, along with the hefty sums commanded by Olympic advertising time are the reasons that the broadcast rights are so sought after and so expensive.

In Canada, CBC/Radio-Canada announced on Aug. 1, 2012, that it had won the Canadian media rights for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The CBC has previously broadcast the games 19 times.

The deal came more than a month after CBC and Bell Media announced they would no longer submit a joint bid for the rights. The exact figure was not disclosed but it was sure to be far less than what the partnership between CTV Inc. and Rogers Communications -- later to be formally known as Canada's Olympic Broadcast Consortium -- paid for the rights to the Vancouver and London Games.

The International Olympic Committee, the Games' governing body, said the winning bid was $153 million.

Which leads us back to the beginning of this post. And the fact that there is an excellent possibility that Canada and the USA will once again play for the Olympic gold medal in women's hockey. Television executives in both the USA and Canada will be happy.

Adweek magazine in the US points out that NBC Universal forked over some $775 million for the media rights to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but if history is any guide, the network is all but certain to recoup the cost of its original investment. NBCU could be on track to rake in around $1.05 billion in overall ad sales revenue, an estimate arrived at by multiplying the average cost of a 30-second spot in the 2002-10 Games ($95,500) by as many as 11,000 30-second units that are carved out of the Sochi coverage.

And you can bet that its the blue chip sponsors who will be paying top dollars to advertise during the women's hockey final hockey. Because we already know who will be there.

Anastasia Bucsis

Gay Athletes At The 2014 Sochi Olympics

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