SBD/January 28, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Bettman Discusses "24/7," Concussions, Expiring TV Deals

Bettman expects the NHL to collaborate with HBO again after "24/7" success's E.J. Hradek spoke with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recently, and Bettman "shared some thoughts on some of the league's recent high-profile events, the continuing battle against head injuries and the change to the All-Star format." Below are excerpts from the Q&A.

Hradek: Might we see a second NHL edition of the HBO Sports reality show next winter?
Bettman: They are interested in continuing this. And, those are discussions that we have to have. Whether or not we do it or we do it in the same form or we focus on something else is something that we've yet to formally discuss. ... It was a great experience for everybody and I would anticipate that we would do it again.

Hradek: Your current U.S. television deals with NBC and Versus are expiring at season's end. What update can you provide on the progress toward a new U.S. TV deal?
Bettman: The first discussions will be with our existing partners, NBC and Versus. We may be the single biggest beneficiaries of the Comcast-NBC-Universal merger because here our two national broadcast partners -- broadcast and cable -- are coming together and they're going to be jointly run by Dick Ebersol and his team. That's great news for us. We've been in a holding pattern -- wait and see -- until the merger was approved. Once the transaction closes we'll begin formal negotiations and try to work our way through an extension of the existing relationship.

Hradek: The league is introducing a new format for the All-Star Weekend. How did it come about?
Bettman: One of [NHL VP/Hockey & Business Development] Brendan Shanahan's responsibilities is to look for ways to meld the game and its essential elements with the things we do with our fans and the things that we do with our business partners. ... In the spring, he came to me and said, "I have an idea for the All-Star Game, what do you think?" I thought it was a terrific idea as did most people in the organization. ... To us, this was just another way to have fun with the game. The creation of the Friday night fantasy draft ... we got to invent a whole new event and I think that people are going to have a great time with it.

Hradek: The concussion suffered by Sidney Crosby has ignited further talk about what else the league can do to best protect the players. What is your feeling when you hear this discussion?
It's easy to overreact and overlegislate, but that has implications for the game. You just can't run off and do it. I know a lot of people have focused on Sidney Crosby's concussion, as have we. We're not happy it happened and obviously he isn't, either. ... That was a collision. And, in a fast-paced game like ours, where the players are bigger and faster than ever before, there are going to be collisions. I think what we need to do is to continue to focus on this issue and what can be done to better protect the players (, 1/27).

The AP's Ira Podell reported while the NFL and NBA are "facing labor uncertainty, the NHL is taking a moment to puff out its chest as it heads into an All-Star weekend unlike any other." Six years after a full season was lost, the NHL "finds itself in a unique position of negotiated calm and unprecedented success." The league said that it is "on pace to break revenue records," as it expects total revenue to "rise for the fifth straight year to nearly" $2.9B. League generated revenue is "believed to be going up by 14 percent -- an 85 percent jump over the past four years." Bettman said, "The league is extremely well positioned. The vital signs are good and we anticipate continued growth and momentum" (AP, 1/27).

A GLOBE & MAIL editorial stated, "Sidney Crosby’s health is a public trust. ... The National Hockey League and the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey club failed to live up to their duty as guardians of that trust, and are now reaping what they sowed: Mr. Crosby will miss the all-star game this weekend (his 10th game out with a concussion), undermining the much publicized event in the United States." The NHL has "failed to understand the seriousness of head injuries," and it "needs to learn the lessons" of Crosby's concussion. The editorial: "The league's protocol should bar the return of the concussed or unconscious, and send a clearer message about the seriousness of brain injuries" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/26).

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