SBD/5/Franchises

BETTMAN ADDRESSES NEW JERSEY PAPER ON DEVILS' LEASE

     NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wrote an open letter to the
Bergen RECORD letter detailing the league's stance on the Devils'
situation.  On May 30, the RECORD's editorial board had called on
Bettman to show "leadership" in regards to the Devils' dispute
with the NJSEA over conditions at Byrne Arena.  In Saturday's
RECORD, Thomas Fitzgerald and Stephen Hirsch write that Bettman
said the Devils have raised "serious questions" about whether the
NJSEA "has lived up to the terms of its lease at Byrne Arena.  If
the charges are true, 'the conduct of the sports authority
presents a very serious issue.'"  NJSEA Chair Michael Francis
told the RECORD that "a deal is a deal."  Francis:  "The
authority without question has honored all its obligations,
commitments and responsibilities .... and we would demand that
the Devils do likewise."  Devils Owner John McMullen, responding
to Francis' comments: "We are trying to keep this kind of thing
to a minimum, but they're the ones who haven't kept the deal"
(RECORD, 6/3).
     HIGHLIGHTS:  In his letter, Bettman wrote of the league's
actions in "preserving and strengthening teams throughout North
America," and said that he is "prepared to play a similar role in
New Jersey, if the parties think it appropriate."  Bettman said
for the Devils to continue to put a quality product on the ice,
"they must have appropriate levels of revenue to fund the club's
operations."  Bettman, on the conflict between the NJSEA and
Devils: "I have made no judgement on the merits of those claims,
except to say that if they are true, the conduct of the Sports
Authority presents a very serious issue."  Bettman addressed the
NHL's position in the New York/NJ market: "Here, nine
professional sports teams (three of them NHL teams) operate in
the same geographic area, and under these conditions, it is
reasonable to ask whether the Devils can both remain competitive
and recover some economic vitality."  Finally, Bettman responded
to the RECORD's call to show "some leadership," writing:  "But as
you note elsewhere, leadership is more than just throwing out
sound bites.  It involves getting all the facts, thinking through
the issues, and engaging in some constructive problem solving.  I
cannot promise that everyone will always like the answers or the
solutions.  But I assure you and your readers that I'll make the
effort" (Bergen RECORD, 6/3).
     REAX:  Fitzgerald and Hirsch cite "a source with ties to the
NHL" who thinks that Bettman "is simply playing the role of
modern league commissioner, who is essentially an employee of the
owners."  The source: "I think what Gary's doing is sticking up
for a local owner" (RECORD, 6/3).  In this morning's N.Y. TIMES,
Richard Sandomir examines Nashville's quest for a team hockey
while noting the lack of interest in the Nashville area for
Saturday's Devils-Flyers game.  Sandomir writes, "The pursuit of
the Devils ... comes from official Nashville:  Mayor Phillip
Bredesen, and Gaylord Entertainment" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/5).
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