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Canadian and U.S. players battle in front of the net for an airborne puck in their men's semifinal ice hockey game at the Bolshoy Ice Dome during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 21, 2014. The Canadian team was victorious, winning 1-0, and faces Sweden in the gold medal game. (JOSH HANER/NYT)
Canadian and U.S. players battle in front of the net for an airborne puck in their men's semifinal ice hockey game at the Bolshoy Ice Dome during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 21, 2014. The Canadian team was victorious, winning 1-0, and faces Sweden in the gold medal game. (JOSH HANER/NYT)

RBC cuts Olympic hockey feed, faces Twitter’s wrath Add to ...

It seems almost everyone in Canada was glued to their screens Friday afternoon during the Olympic semi-final hockey game against the United States. Everyone except for RBC employees working in downtown Toronto.

The bank – which happens to be a major Olympic sponsor – decided to cut the online feed of the game during the first period over fears its computer system would be pushed over capacity. Although employees were welcome to park themselves in front of TV screens scattered throughout the building, the move resulted in some unwanted publicity, particularly considering its substantial investment in the Winter Games.

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People who heard about the decision were quick to voice their displeasure on Twitter, criticizing the decision as “#notverycdn.”

RBC spokesman Jason Graham said the decision had nothing to do with fears of falling workplace productivity. He said the company sent an e-mail to employees Friday morning warning them the live feed may be cut if the bank felt the number of computers streaming the game would impact the performance of its network.

“We were very pro-active. They were able to watch [the game], just not from their work computers,” Mr. Graham said.

Ronald Cenfetelli, associate professor at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia who focuses on Internet technology, said that explanation is very plausible, considering how much bandwidth video takes up.

“It just requires more bits and bytes to go through the pipe,” he said. “It does add up significantly.”

But Barry Waite, public relations professor at Centennial College, said that doesn’t necessarily change the optics of the situation.

“With the entire country focused on the hockey game and there being a lot of chatter online about productivity dropping and things like that, it’s natural that it would look suspect,” he said. “You would think that RBC’s network could withstand a hockey game.”

RBC could have taken steps to avoid negative fallout, Mr. Waite said, such as setting up an area in the building where employees could watch “to reinforce to employees that, as an Olympic sponsor, they wanted them to share in the spirit.”

“I think as an Olympic sponsor, you should think that they would have made some provisions, particularly knowing when the big games were going to be,” he said.

The case also demonstrates how in the new world of social media, every move a company makes is up for public scrutiny, Mr. Waite said.

Across the country, many companies have openly encouraged employees to watch big Olympic events like the women’s and men’s hockey finals, while others look the other way as employees stream the events at their desks.

RBC’s Mr. Graham noted there are numerous TV screens throughout the company’s downtown Toronto headquarters and that several employees gathered to watch the game on a set located near his desk. Employees could also watch the game on TV screens set up in other buildings in downtown Toronto, Mr. Graham said. For instance, CBC, the official Olympics broadcaster, has been inviting fans to watch live events in its atrium of its Toronto headquarters.

“We were encouraging them to watch it,” Mr. Graham said. “This was just a decision that we made.”

The game posted the highest online viewing audience ever for a CBC live event, with a (preliminary) average audience of more than 625,000 on CBC and Radio-Canada's desktop and mobile devices combined, CBC said. This beats the previous record of 325,000, set Thursday during the women's gold medal game, the broadcaster noted.

Follow on Twitter: @carlyweeks

 
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