SBD/December 11, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Bettman Acknowledges NHL Is Fielding Expansion Inquiries, But Makes No Guarantees

Bettman's comments mark a shift in his stance on possible league expansion
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s "responses to media inquiries on future expansion generated the most buzz" yesterday as the league's BOG meeting wrapped up, according to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com. Bettman "again insisted that there is no current plan in place to expand, nor any timeline the league has established to do so -- if ever -- but what made an impression on the assembled media was that Bettman was willing to spend time tackling the subject." In years past he would "quickly brush aside expansion talk," but yesterday he was "at least willing to acknowledge its possibility." Bettman said, "We’re getting lots of expressions of interest and no decisions have been made to do anything other than listen so we haven’t embarked on a formal expansion process, but when people want to talk to us, we listen." LeBrun noted Seattle and Quebec City "are considered by most as the front-runners, with a second team in Toronto another possibility." Houston, Portland, K.C. and Las Vegas also "have been mentioned in the past." However, Bettman again said that his remarks are "not a guarantee that the league will expand." Bettman: "The questions, while they are good and they’re valid, presume that we are necessarily interested in expanding. Nobody has made that decision." But LeBrun noted there was "no question the mood of this board of governors meeting was unlike any other in the past decade, the league not dogged by some of the issues of the past like the ownership situation in Phoenix, labor uncertainty or lackluster TV deals." It can be argued Bettman has "perhaps never had a more positive board meeting in his career" (ESPN.com, 12/10).

PEACE FOR OUR TIME: QMI AGENCY's Chris Stevenson noted with labor peace "assured for the better part of a decade and the most lucrative broadcast deals in NHL history now in place, the NHL hasn’t been more financially stable in recent memory." Stevenson: "Believe this: The NHL will expand. My guess is it will be for the 2016-17 season when the NHL celebrates its 100th anniversary." With franchise fees probably north of $350M, that will "be a nice little birthday present the owners can give themselves" (QMI AGENCY, 12/10).
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