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USA TODAY EXAMINES NHL'S "GROWING PAINS" IN "PIVOTAL" YEAR
Published December 9, 1997
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).