November 15, 2011 Leave a comment
In the past, I have been extremely critical of Commissioner Gary Bettman. In fact, I’ve probably written an article on two in the past about my feelings for him. No no, no need to look it up. It probably won’t be there anyway.
Regardless, I’ve said some pretty nasty things about good ol’ Gary, most of which I no longer believe. After all, from ages 16 to 21, you learn a great deal about how a business works, specifically in the context of a major professional sport. And based on what I’ve learned, I believe that in 2012, Bettman should be the first person inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Bettman entered the league amidst one of the worst scandals in NHL history, but one that was covered up extremely well by his administration. Gil Stein, the previous president, had been in office for less than one year, yet had already cleaned out the entire NHL front office and the Hockey Hall of Fame staff, and mysteriously was voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year in office. Yet when people raised questions about the legitimacy of this election, he withdrew his name from nomination and resigned the presidency.
Bettman jumped in at a delicate time when many were hesitant to trust higher-ups in the NHL – and he passed his test with flying colors.
I still disagree with many actions Bettman has taken throughout his tenure as the commissioner. For one, I believe the massive expansion throughout the Sun Belt was too much, too quickly. I also believe his treatment of the 2005 lockout was simply terrible. But what many fail to remember is that the commissioner is simply there to serve the owners. If Ed Snider, Mike Ilitch, Jim Dolan, and others want the NHL to appear in Arizona, Georgia, Carolina, and twice in Florida, the commissioner makes it happen.
However, all you need to do is look at the list of achievements on Bettman’s resume, and the credentials simply speak for themselves. He has seen the league grow from 24 to 30 teams, has relocated those that were financially unfeasible, and done his best to ensure the current teams are as healthy as possible, with relocation being a final option (see Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers, Phoenix Coyotes, etc.). In 18 years, he has seen revenues jump from $400 million in 1993 to over $2.2 billion in 2011. Even accounting for inflation, that’s an increase of over 350%. Any business that grows by that much in the amount of time Bettman has had would see a skyrocketing of their stock.
Bettman’s main, stated goal when he first became the commissioner was to increase the NHL’s exposure in the media. He signed a $150 million dollar deal with Fox immediately after taking the position, and continued to grow the league’s TV deals, culminating in the recent 10-year, $2 billion contract with Comcast/NBC. The addition of NHL Home Ice on XM Radio, including his own show in which he reaches out to fans, and the creation of the NHL Network and Gamecenter Live.
Lastly, regardless of my (or anyone’s) feelings on his handling of the lockout, it really was a win for both sides. Most owners are no longer in danger of losing the kind of money they were before the lockout. Revenues have hit record highs, almost catching those of the NBA, while the players are happy with how it turned out for them as well.
Now for those who believe the Hall of Fame is the last place Bettman deserves to be, take a look at the previous NHL Presidents. Frank Calder, the league’s founder, was in charge for 26 years, and was named to the Hall of Fame in 1947 in the second induction class. Red Dutton, who was the president for just three years, was inducted into the Hall of Fame just 15 years after being named to the position. John Ziegler was inducted ten years into his presidency, while still serving.
Now Bettman, 18 years into his reign, has accomplished arguably more than any of those presidents combined. He might not be around much longer, as he is nearing retirement age. So why not honor him now with a permanent shrine to his contributions to hockey? It’s the least the Hall of Fame voters can do, because without Bettman, their jobs might be at a hockey memorial – not a tribute to living history.
Alan Bass, a former writer for The Hockey News and THN.com, is the author of The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever. He has worked for the Philadelphia Flyers’ Fan Development department, going to schools throughout the tri-state area to teach about fitness and the importance of teamwork. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College Division II hockey team as well. You can contact him at Alanbasswriting@aol.com.