SBD/9/Leagues Governing Bodies

USA TODAY EXAMINES NHL'S "GROWING PAINS" IN "PIVOTAL" YEAR

          The state of the NHL was examined by USA TODAY's Sharon
     Raboin under the header, "NHL Fights Growing Pains. 
     Tradition, New Ideas Collide In Critical Olympic Season." 
     Raboin: "As the NHL strives to become a prime-time major
     league, hockey's bloodied, blue-collar tradition is knocking
     heads with the social and business realities of modern
     sports.  How the league deals with this pivotal season could
     determine the future of the NHL as an organization on par
     with the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball."  With the
     "watershed event" of Olympic participation approaching, the
     league "is struggling with the problems of what NHL
     Commissioner Gary Bettman calls 'a game that was
     underexposed and, as a result, underappreciated.'"  Among
     challenges facing the league: a "violent image that become
     tinged with racism" because of two incidents this season;
     "low" TV ratings; "high" ticket prices and "increasing a new
     fan base without alienating the old one."  Raboin:
     "Arguably, the NHL has never been more popular or
     financially sound."  But Bettman said, "That doesn't mean
     anything to me.  We need to be as strong as we can be, not
     stronger than we've ever been" (USA TODAY, 12/9). 
          FREEDOM FIGHTERS: Raboin adds that "fisticuffs are part
     of the attraction and repulsion of the sport.  Fights fill
     television highlights but scare off much of the wider fan
     base hockey needs to grow."  But NHL Senior VP/Operations
     Brian Burke said, "We don't have a violent sport.  We have a
     contact sport.  We're not embarrassed by the amount of
     contact.  It's a real selling point" (USA TODAY, 12/9).

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