SBD/November 18, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Gary Bettman Dishes On Fighting, Revenue Growth In Expansive Q&A

Bettman said players reporting concussions is more acceptable than ever
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman discussed league growth, safety issues, expansion and TV in a Q&A with Eric Duhatschek of the GLOBE & MAIL. Below are excerpts from the interview.

Q: In September, reports circulated that the NHL was expecting [US]$1-billion in growth over the next three seasons, a figure that may stagger some (but presumably, not NHL GMs, who are signing players to lucrative long-term contracts as if they know the salary cap is about to rise). Where is all this money going to come from?
Bettman: Sports, as a media property, is increasingly valuable because it’s something you have to have live. As a result, we’re a better touch point for sponsors and advertisers because our commercials typically don’t get zapped out. International is important to us. Events are important. Not all of these things are for the money.

Q: And the money flows from that?
Bettman: In my pyramid of how this works, the game on the ice is the most important thing. Then, you service your fans. If you’re doing that right, then the money flows.

Q: I understand the overriding theme -- keep the physical play in hockey, but minimize the number of concussions and other injuries because injuries aren’t good for the business of hockey. But not everyone thinks the pace of change is moving along fast enough.
Bettman: This is a physical game. The players want it physical, that’s how they make their livelihood. The fans want it physical, that’s the nature of the game, but we want to make it as safe as we can. ... We’ve encouraged players who are having symptoms to come forward, get treated -- and they’re doing it.

Q: Well, most of them are.
Bettman: It’s a cultural change. But (reporting concussion symptoms) is more acceptable than it’s ever been and more players are willing to do it. In fact, we’re hearing stories of teammates encouraging other teammates to do that.

Q: Why don't you just use your powers as commissioner to [ban fighting] unilaterally?
Bettman: I don’t make the (game’s) rules. I don’t have unilateral decision-making authority and there are people on both sides of the discussion that are very well dug in on their positions.

Q: Do you [have] a personal opinion about it?
Bettman: Yes.

Q: Would you care to share it?
Bettman: No. And it's probably not what anybody thinks or has been speculated. There are people here that know, but anyone who has speculated doesn't know" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/16).

DAY OF RECKONING: SI.com's Brian Cazeneuve wrote under the header, "NHL's Day Of Reckoning With Fighting Is Surely Coming." Cazeneuve: "Leave it in, and something terrible may happen." Something will have to happen to "force the NHL's hand," and that day "may be closer than we think" (SI.com, 11/15).
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