SBD/June 4, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL In Great Financial Position As Stanley Cup Final Starts, With Bettman Bullish On Future

NHL annual revenue is expected to reach $4B mark this season
The '14 Stanley Cup Final begins tonight with the NHL having achieved "arguably the best financial position in its history," with many of Commissioner Gary Bettman's efforts yielding a league that "feels as modern as its cohorts," according to Sharon Terlep of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. It "has maintained its position as the world's premier showcase for the sport while making peace with its players' union, revitalizing its Canadian franchises and enjoying a tenfold increase in revenue." The impending retirement of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig "will make the 62-year-old Bettman his profession's longest-tenured leader, and there is no talk of change." MLSE Chair Larry Tanenbaum said Bettman is "incredibly intelligent, unbelievably passionate and you know exactly where you stand with him." Terlep cites sources who said that the NHL "expects revenue this year" of around $4B, compared with $400M a year when Bettman took over in '93. Of that $4B, around $1.4B "will come from game attendance, or gate sales, with the rest from a combination of broadcasting contracts in the U.S. and Canada and product licensing." Bettman often is seen as "public enemy number one" in Canada. His "oft-vocalized ambivalence about NHL participation in the Olympics" is a "sore point for many Canadian fans." Bettman's "less than vigorous defense of on-ice fighting has led to suspicions that he opposes the practice."  However, Bettman has "ushered in a revenue-sharing plan that funneled income from American teams to struggling, small-market Canadian teams." The "stabilization of the Canadian dollar, far more than any action by the NHL, relieved pressure on those teams" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 6/4).

BETTMAN STILL BUILDING: Bettman yesterday appeared on CNBC, saying, "We're in a very good place. We've spent a fair amount of time trying to build the right foundation for our game, making sure that the game on the ice is healthy, entertaining, exciting and competitive and at the same time building our businesses around the game, particularly as it relates to our business media partners such as NBC in the United States and using all the digital platforms." Bettman said of his critics, "You can't win the hearts of everyone in this industry. If, in fact, you're thin-skinned and can't take the criticism, you should do something else. While there are always going to be critics, the fact is we've made long-term decisions. We were criticized for work stoppages but we came back healthier each time. We were criticized for making a revolutionary extraordinary deal with NBC and NBC Sports Network as opposed to taking the traditional route with other sports networks, and that has worked out fabulously well." Bettman: "The sport has grown very well. The players have done very well and, most importantly, since the game is better, the fans are in a much better place. We have perhaps the best competitive balance in all of sports" ("Squawk on the Street," CNBC, 6/3).

MEGA MARKET SHARE: In Toronto, Damien Cox writes a Rangers-Kings Stanley Cup Final "makes this very big business for everyone." Since NHL owners and players "now share the receipts equally, both benefit when the large-market teams succeed." With the Canadian dollar "drooping against the U.S. greenback compared to where it was, this matters even more" (TORONTO STAR, 6/4).
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