SBD/Issue 19/NHL Season Preview

NHL Season Preview: League Rides Wave Of Momentum Into Season

NHL Drops Puck On '10-11 Season
With Hurricanes-Wild Game In Helsinki

The NHL season opens today "on the heels of an electrifying Olympic tournament, the continuing rise of charismatic young stars and a third straight postseason dominated by teams from hockey-steeped American cities," according to Jeff Klein of the N.Y. TIMES. There "will be challenges, but rather than symptoms of a league's struggles, they seem to be signs of growing strength." The NHLPA, "long rudderless and riven by internal strife, seems united again and close to ratifying the nomination" of former MLBPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr, who is "perhaps the most successful labor leader in sports in the last three decades." With Fehr in place, the union and management "can negotiate on relatively equal terms in talks to replace the collective bargaining agreement that expires" in Sept. '12. All NHL teams are "grappling with difficult personnel decisions dictated by the league's salary cap," but despite "dire projections in the economic downturn, the NHL has had a slight rise in revenue." Corporate sponsorship also is "up, and American television has come calling after two decades of indifference." Meanwhile, HBO is "fueling the run-up" to the Jan. 1 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic by following the Penguins and the Capitals "in only its second nonboxing '24/7' series." And ESPN and Fox are "expected to bid for cable rights against Versus, the rights-holder from 2005 through this season." The league's TV revenue is "expected to rise, perhaps substantially, from the roughly $75 million a year it gets from Versus" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/7).

STEP RIGHT UP: The CP's Chris Johnston noted the NHL is opening the regular season in Europe for a "fourth straight year." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said of the participating teams, "We're still at the stage where we take volunteers. And so we try to give the fans in the various cities attractive matchups, interesting matchups and over time our hope and expectation is that everybody will want to go and will get to go." Bettman noted that the games are "expensive to put on -- when you factor in travel costs and the price of buying out a team's home gate -- and don't generate much direct revenue." Meanwhile, Bettman acknowledged that there are a "number of cities with an interest in having an NHL team and hinted that Winnipeg is ahead of Quebec in the queue." Bettman: "Some interest is more realistic than others. If there's interest in a place that doesn't have an arena, it's not interest at this point that we need to focus on, without mentioning any names. The issue only becomes ripe if we're either moving a franchise -- which we're not currently planning on doing -- or we decide to expand -- which we're not currently planning on doing." Bettman also indicated that he "hopes to sit down at the bargaining table once Donald Fehr officially takes over" with the union. Bettman: "Obviously, we would like to (start negotiating) sooner and quieter if possible" (CP, 10/6).

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