SBD/March 8, 2013/People and Pop Culture

SI Profiles NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Whose Job Is "More Complex Than Most"

Average NHL salaries have risen from $558,000 to $2.45M in Bettman's tenure
NHL Commissioner GARY BETTMAN's job "might seem less consequential than some of his counterparts," but it is "infinitely more complex than most," according to Michael Farber of SI. Bettman must "confront a variety of borders -- geographic, cultural and even linguistic." His league is on the "periphery of the American experience for many, in the marrow of Canadian life for most." While Bettman has "grown the footprint of his league in the U.S., many in Canada want to leave their footprints on his prostrate body." He has been "called the worst commissioner in sports history." He also has made the NHL a "thoroughly modern league, expanding it from a licensing company into a media company." The three lockouts are "jagged shards, characterizing a tenure in which Bettman has inarguably benefited ownership long term but roiled the game short term." Nevertheless, the game already "seems to be roaring back." The average NHL salary in Bettman's "first full season was $558,000." Last year, the average NHL salary was $2.45M. Former Sabres Managing Partner & Minority Owner LARRY QUINN said, "If you're an employee and your institution's bottom line has gone up like that, you'd be looking at this leader and saying, 'Isn't he great?'" Univ. of Michigan sports management professor RODNEY FORT said Bettman will "go down as one of the greatest commissioners in pro sports." He added, "If you consider his job description, he has been completely masterful." Farber notes Bettman is employed by the owners, whose "share of hockey-related revenue has increased from 25% to 50% since" the league's second lockout in '04-05.

BORDER GUARD: Canada is "simultaneously the rock of Bettman's game and the pebble in his shoe." Bettman has "saved at least a couple of scuffling Canadian franchises." He also has "swung the truncheon, relocating two others to American cities." Former Maple Leafs President & GM BRIAN BURKE said, "His image in Canada is so unfair." Farber notes Bettman "gave the country its coveted seventh team" when he relocated the Thrashers to Winnipeg. He "developed the Canadian Assistance Plan," spanning from '95-04. On the macroeconomic scale, "rewards for his Canadian support have been significant." But the "backslapping" for Bettman "has been minimal." The question is what has Bettman "done to alienate fans?" Is it something "as concrete as lockouts or is it something as intangible as his mien or manner?" Former Nordiques co-Owner & President MARCEL AUBUT said, "There's a little bit of arrogance in him that sometimes doesn't help, but people who know him understand he has a big heart" (SI, 3/11 issue).
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