Gary Bettman celebrates 30 years as NHL commissioner
Bettman was announced this week as the recipient of SBJ’s Lifetime Achievement AwardGetty Images
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is the “longest-serving commissioner of North America’s four major sports leagues” and is celebrating 30 years in the job today, according to LA TIMES’ Helene Elliott. Bettman turned 70 last summer, but “has no retirement plans.” Bettman “isn’t warm and fuzzy” as he can be “haughty, alienating fans whose interests he claimed to protect when he’s kicked players out three times in labor disputes.” Still, Bettman is “smart, very smart.” He figured out “how to open that puck and expand the reach of a sport that doesn’t translate well to the television and which has little tradition in many parts of the United States,” Bettman said, “I reflect on the fact that I was at that time, and I continue to be excited and energized by what I His tenure was “marked by a mix of innovations. He also took on TV deals “with obscure networks before the current profitable deal with ESPN and Turner.” Bettman “hit a winner with games outdoors that appeal to nostalgia.” Many Canadians “despise him for Americanizing their game,” but he “designed a program to help Canadian-based teams when monetary disparities handicapped them.” The league’s revenue was about $400 million “when it started” and about $5.3 billion last season. Franchise values have “skyrocketed” (LA TIMES, 1/30).
THE PUCK POLARIZER: Team owners in 1993 “believed Bettman could help the then 24-team league expand further into U.S. markets (especially southern states), negotiate more lucrative media deals and even stabilize working relationships. Bettman “did all of this, and more”. Under his leadership, the NHL has grown into a 32-club operation in which “most teams are bringing in more revenue than ever before.” There were also “periods of instability, ranging from multiple lockouts to unpopular decisions that the league still faces today.” Bettman has been “a polarizing presence through it all, an executive routinely drowned out by booed fans whenever he makes a public appearance”. His place in league history was “solidified” when Hockey HOF inducted him as a “builder” with the Class of 2018 (ESPN.com, 2/1). Sean McIndoe of THE ATHLETIC writes “given the ever-increasing size of the league and the changing landscape of today’s professional sports world, Bettman’s reign has long surpassed all his predecessors in complexity”. He is “the most influential figure in NHL history, and it’s not close” (THE ATHLETIC, 2/1).
GROWING INTO THE POSITION: ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap notes that ‘most sports business observers and the commissioner would say he is the most powerful figure in his sport compared to the other commissioners’. ESPN’s John Buccigross spoke of his first conversation with Bettman over 20 years ago and recalled that Bettman at that time “sometimes looked like an overly starched shirt when you talked to him”. Schaap said, “Now, as he got older, he got more comfortable around people. But he likes to fight.” Schaap: “There was a kind of awkwardness that Gary Bettman came out of in interview situations…but Bettman is a badass.” Buccigross said, “He likes to fight. He’s a bit defensive, but extremely smart” (“The Point”, ESPN2, 1/31).
TRIBUTE TO BETTMAN: SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL’s Abe Madkour writes that Bettman was “determined to improve the reputation of the rudderless NHL when he was appointed league commissioner 30 years ago. He had “an incredible journey of growing the game around the world and the NHL has flourished under his leadership and guidance.” He was “a leader with substance and clearly helped define the sports industry of the modern era”. He is “well deserving of the SBJ Lifetime Achievement Award” (SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL, issue 1/30).