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Hate the Player...
by Michele Christopher
Today I’m going to talk to you about the most beloved man in hockey. Nope, not Walter Gretzky and it’s not Jim Balsille* either. I man I speak of is strong of mind (even if he’s wrong), has a will of steel (but no brass balls), and is dragging the NHL kicking and screaming into the future...
Did I say beloved? Sorry, typo, I meant beHATED. Je ne like him pas, as they say in Hull. He tries, but he never quite gets it, does he? To fully understand my, and Canada’s, um – dislike, of Bettman, all you have to do is watch the hysterical Canadian film “BON COP, BAD COP”, it even explains why Eric Lindros cannot go into the province of Quebec, but I digress. Find this movie, download it, do whatever while I explain the phenomenon that is Gary Bettman.
Where to begin...
a) He’s grown the league. He’s grown the league into markets where no one has ever heard of Hockey, without adequate marketing and has “moved” teams from money making markets into these untraditional markets. Points for trying something new, three frozen pucks to the head for being a dumbass about it.
b) During his tenure, revenue has increased across the league by $1.2 billion. WHOOT right? Most of that revenue has come from increased ticket and merchandise sales from established markets, at least four teams have declared bankruptcy and a few are teetering on the edge (salary cap or not).
c) Raised attendance, overall. Again, propped up by the established league and creative accounting practices. Many tickets at money losing American venues (like Nashville) are either given away or sold for lower than the face value, pumping up the attendance numbers that Bettman likes to keep shoving in our faces every time he gives an interview.
d) TV Coverage. Canada’s covered by the CBC; Hockey Night in Canada is an institution – you have to be able to at least hum the theme song if you want to get Canadian citizenship. The US, however, has a problem. How many homes get OLN? Heard of it? Thought so. Bettman’s lost season (see The Strike, below) cost him the ESPN contract and viewership is down 60%. If it was regular TV he’d be so cancelled.
e) The Strike. A year without NHL hockey! Hockey arenas around North America were filled with people trying to get their hockey fix. I know my local Junior A team (GO COUGARS!) saw a jump in attendance. Really though, it was horrible and I will NEVER forgive Bettman or the NHLPA head** (whose name I refuse to even type) for making hockey go away. There is a special place in hell for both of them, preferably together, giving each other red hot magma sponge baths, for all eternity.
a) Changing the Team Conferences from Wales and Campbell to East and West. I know it was tradition, but it always confused me. A happy Deb is one who knows what’s going on.
b)NHL participation in Olympic Games. Even though Bettman didn’t want to do this, he was finally convinced in time for the Salt Lake City games. By allowing NHL players to participate in the games he raised the visibility and profile of the game world wide and more importantly in the US. So he gets point, even though he was forced into it.
Bettman is a man on a mission and, like NASA, not every plan has worked out the way he wanted it. Sure his (mis)management skills were there to see before he was hired away from the NBA (another sport that was invented by a Canadian by the way). It was even confirmed when Business Week magazine named him one of the worst managers of 2005.
Commissioners are never loved. The best that he can hope for is to die in their sleep is to be remembered for at least one good (or okay) thing that they did. I just hope for Bettman’s sake that the improvements are enough.
We just have to learn not to hate the player.
** Some of the players don’t even like him, Chelios is getting a group together to sue him for not representing their interests…