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Dollars and sense

March 8, 2007

This post is in reponse to the comments on the previous post.  Please read these to give you some context for my words.  A few excerpts from the comment string:

From Tyler (of The Jacket Times):

I’d really like to see the Jackets move, but the Red Wings should get first dibs. One notable thing about the Wings is that they have proven that an Eastern Time Zone team can win out west, despite time zones, jet lag and travel times.

From Patrick:

Regarding Bettman’s tenure as commissioner in the NHL, revenue streams have increased astronomically since he came into the league. Regarding Bettman having to do with anything that goes on the ice; that is really determined by many committees that are chiefly run by the general managers and owners. The competition committee that was led by Brenden Shanahan two seasons ago is the chief architect of the new rules. Remember Bettman works for the owners who pay him. If the owners did not like the job Bettman was doing, he would not be there. Bettman is a conduit, politician, and quite clever and hard working. The game is going through a renewed set of growing pains(since the lockout) and really the game has never been better on the ice. With the Crosby’s, Ovechkins, Staala, Malkins, Phaneufs and Kopitar tonight, what a future for the game.

From Matt (of FireBettman.com):

How is Bettman clever? Clever in how he can trick the fans and others maybe. Bettman *should* be there to make the game better, not listen to the owners. He should stand up to them if he thinks something they want isn’t right… but I have a feeling he doesn’t know enough about the game to know what’s right or wrong for it. I wonder what Bettman’s salary is???? I guess it’s easy to do what you’re told when you’re being paid a hefty salary by them.

And who cares if revenue is growing right now?

My response:

Tyler- I think you’re right that Detroit has helped to prove that a Western team in the Eastern time zone can win. But they have also had the benefit of two expansion teams in their division since 1998 (and the Blackhawks). Still… good point.

Patrick- I think you and I are on the same page.  Keep reading.

Matt- I hesitated to write this [last] post because I knew it would elicit polarizing responses, but decided to proceed because I don’t want to censor myself. The many sides of the Bettman issue remind me of bad political debate, with neither side willing to concede an inch even when a good point is made.

While some hockey fans may not appreciate what has happened to “their” game during Bettman’s tenure, there are a few things that everyone with an opinion on the issue should know. The first were touched on by Patrick above, that many committees have implemented rule changes and other things that Bettman haters love to harp on. Why is no one knocking on Brendan Shanahan’s door asking why he helped to approve the shootout?

On your website, you link to Gary Bettman’s Wikipedia entry, which notes that like NBA commissioner David Stern, Bettman has very little connection to the actual game/sport of hockey (which brings me to my next major point that Patrick also mentioned above).

Gary Bettman works for the owners. Not the NHLPA, not the fans, and not “the game”. Owners of a team are very likely preoccupied with one thing: money. So I would argue that while maybe you and many others don’t care if profits soared astronomically under Bettman’s watch, the owners most certainly do. I think a lot of people have a misconception that owners of sports teams (and I honestly believe that this applies to all four major sports leagues) are less concerned with the integrity of the game than they are with the almighty dollar. There will be those who appear to buck this trend (maybe Mark Cuban?), to be sure. But to think that John McConnell or 99% of most other owners care more about shootouts, realignment, poor scheduling, and the flawed point system more than “money money money” is simply ludicrous.

Professional sports is no longer about a game, it’s about business. Where fans like you, me, and anybody else who gives a lick get frustrated is when the business goals are out of alignment with the goals of the game. Art Modell moved a very successful franchise away from Cleveland. Why? It all boiled down to money. Why did any of Hartford, Quebec, Winnipeg, Minnesota, et al move? For the money. Nobody is arguing that fans in Winnipeg are any less deserving than fans in Phoenix to have a hockey team to watch. But the ownership group got a better financial package to move, so they did. It’s sad, but it’s not like this stuff started 10 years ago. Sports teams have packed up and moved for decades. It’s not about the game, it’s about the dollar.

Owners care about money, Bettman brings them money. Those who write his check are very happy.

Yes, there are other issues.  But I think if you can accept the money issue for what it is, the rest of [y]our complaints are very ancillary and not specifically adjudicated by evil Gary alone.

I don’t know how many more times I’ll bring up Bettman in this (my) forum. Why? Mostly because I don’t love or loathe him. It’s hard for me to have an opinion about someone who is fairly removed from the actual game (hockey, not the NHL) that I love. But it’s obvious to me that there are people who have a very focused opinion on the commish. I’ll probably let them have their fun on their own sites, and I’ll stick to complaining about Doug MacLean.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.  Come back soon.

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5 comments

  1. So the question regarding Bettman comes down to: “Is the league more profitable with Bettman?” That’s the evaluation that owners are going to look at, and the only measuring stick that’ll be used for him to keep his job or be replaced- Just like a CEO of a company. It’s not about the quality of the product or the customer service, it’s about profitability.

    I don’t have the raw data to answer that question, but we do know that several teams have filed for bankruptcy, the league no longer has a big time contract on ESPN, games are not being sold out, there has been a few team relocations (with another upcoming) and there was a year-long lockout. But for all I know, the league may be more profitable than it was when he stepped into the office in what, 1994? (thereabouts, anyway.)

    While it is true that Bettman’s job is to work for the owners, it’s worth noting that the decisions he makes about the game affect how interesting the sport is to its fans, and subsequently how much money we fans are willing to spend on NHL tickets, merchandise and otherwise. So there is incentive to do what we, the fans, want to see, but only so far as it is profitable.


  2. You totally missed my point… and edited out the end of my post to support yours a bit.

    The league and teams make money off the fans. The fans ultimately control teams and their financial stability. If Bettman and the league aren’t doing what it takes to attract new fans and retain old ones, the league will END UP LOSING MONEY. They are not doing the necessary things, and the things that they are doing (most of them), are hurting the fan base. Like Tyler said, and I said before, a TV contract with Versus and not having full arenas shows that they aren’t being fiscally responsible…

    things may seem great to owners right now when it comes to dollars, but they’re not seeing the big picture, and planning ahead money-wise.


  3. Matt,

    You’re right, I did edit your comment a little unfairly. For that, I do apologize.

    I completely agree with you that the NHL powers (commissioner’s office/employees and owners) need to be more aware of the fans. But ultimately, even if Bettman comes up with the greatest ideas to save hockey, the owners aren’t going to support the ideas without them making semi-immediate financial sense. Just because they should, doesn’t mean they will.

    The history of humanity is littered with examples of this.

    And regarding the TV contract, perhaps I’m missing something (I’m inclined to think this is very likely) but it was my impression that the NHL didn’t dump ESPN but that ESPN dumped the NHL. What incentive does a network have to offer programming that is not profitable to them?

    ESPN receives higher ratings for pap such as poker, hot dog eating contests, NFL player skills competitions, etc. All of these “replacement” options are considerably cheaper to produce than a hockey game, and with the higher ratings they can charge more for advertising in return. It’s crap, and I hate it. But I understand it from a business standpoint. Versus coverage has improved since last year, but I still don’t think to change to channel 70 to watch hockey on Monday and Tuesday.

    Again, Matt… I’m sorry I edited out part of your statement. Perhaps (for my benefit) you could comment on what specifically Bettman’s regime has done to hurt the fan base? I’d be interested to see what changes are viewed as hurtful and why.

    Thanks for stopping by, guys. Good discussions we’re having here. (Not bad for a topic I don’t care about too much, huh?) 😉


  4. ESPN had offered them a TV contract, if I remember correctly, and they didn’t accept it, because they wanted more exposure… hah.

    So that is #1 on my list for things they have done to hurt the fan base.

    adding to that…

    – making the officials call more “hooks” and penalties overall. Have you watched hockey these past two seasons? It’s embarrassing sometimes as to what passes as a penalty. I’ve almost turned off the TV because I can’t believe it. Let them play the game!! It then makes it worse when you see these sad penalties called, and then a minute later, the officials miss an obvious one.

    – Cutting back on fighting by stiffening the penalties for it, especially towards the end of the game. Come on, fans love to see hockey fights!!

    – Moving the all-star game to a Wednesday night (on Versus). Whose genius idea was this? A 10 year old could tell you this doesn’t make sense.

    – Changing up the schedule so that certain teams don’t meet during the regular season (or at all)… this does away with some old rivalries, which fans love.

    – Changing up the schedule so sometimes you have to watch your team play the same other team multiple times within a short amount of time. I get sick of seeing the same teams. This goes along with the last point…How am I supposed to know about all these bright young stars on other teams, when my team is only playing a limited number of teams? How do I know about the rest of the league and what their teams are like?? I want to see more teams, meaning different types of game, as a hockey fan. Go ahead and market Ovechkin and Crosby all you want… what does it matter if my team(s) only see them play once or twice a year??!!

    I could go on, but I don’t want to take up any more space here 🙂 I think you get the picture…

    I will admit that Versus is getting better, but it’s still way up in the channel line-up like you point out, and still, there are TONS of people who have never heard of it, or don’t receive it in their TV programming. Their commentating is still pretty weak IMHO too.

    thanks for your reply and thoughts, once again 🙂


  5. I accept that I will never be able to turn people on Bettman’s tenure as commish and the successes he has brought to the NHL. I’ll offer this nugget: The lockout was necessary for the long term health of the NHL. The only way a team like Ottawa or Buffalo could survive is with the salary cap. In fact, when Bettman convinced Golisano (Buffalo) and Melnyk( Ottawa) to save these franchises years back, it was based on the premise that there would be a cap. The All Star game was held mid-week at the behest of the owners who wanted to keep their lucrative weekend dates open for regular season games. The Versus deal was done with a look to the future. Bettman wanted a partner that would treat the NHL as a prized property that would grow, ESPN was not willing to make that commitment. Granted not many homes have Versus- which is a problem. I’ll repeat; Bettman has to do what the owners want him to do. Twice yearly they meet to discuss these matters and yes, revenues are a priority. Bettman is a huge upgrade over Zeigler and the other failures at this job. Again, blame Brendan Shanahan for the rule changes and Steve Walkom for the implementation of these rules. Bettman is the face and makes no decisions on these matters. And really, blame the owners for the unbalanced schedule. Columbus certainly gets the raw end of the deal in this regard.



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