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The NHL was preparing for collective bargaining negotiations with the NHLPA in 1994 when a 30-year-old lawyer named Bill Daly was handed the task of writing a “decision tree” memo to present to Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Daly was a rising star at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a firm so impressed by his early work as a legal assistant that they helped pay some of his costs for law school.
Daly became the league's first deputy commissioner in 2005.
Photo by:Newscom / Reuters
“I’m sure it was a much bigger event for me than it was for the commissioner,” Daly said, laughing.
Little did he know, but two years later, Daly would be tapped as the NHL’s chief legal officer, marking the start of a career that would make him the go-to guy for Bettman and the heir apparent to commissioner.
Daly, 49, joined the NHL in 1996 and was promoted by Bettman to deputy commissioner — the only one in the league’s 97-year history — in 2005. Club owners are quick to praise his intelligence and accessibility.
“He’s just an incredibly smart man with a work ethic and passion to match,” said Mark Chipman, the chairman and governor of the Winnipeg Jets. “He is a great deputy commissioner and there’s no question in my mind that some day Bill will make a great commissioner.”
Daly’s life growing up in Kinnelon, N.J., was, in his own words, “pretty unremarkable.” His family was middle-class. He spent his days after school playing football, baseball, street hockey and Strat-O-Matic with his friends.
He spent many nights in the stands at Madison Square Garden with his father, a longtime New York Rangers season-ticket holder.
Daly’s lone sibling, Denise, three years his senior, was the more adventurous teenager. Denise went to Bolivia as an
Daly played running back at Dartmouth, where he graduated in 1986.
Daly’s focus was sports. He was a speedy running back at Kinnelon High School and received invitations to attend and play for Ivy League schools, including Penn. He chose Dartmouth, majoring in government with an additional concentration in history, and was thinking about pursuing a law degree after college.
“I was thinking about a career in sports law, even back then,” Daly said.
Soon after graduating high school, Daly’s uneventful life took a turn that shook him up. His parents separated, leaving Bill to wonder if going to school almost 300 miles away at Dartmouth was the right thing to do.
“My sister was out of the country and my mom was going to be living alone,” Daly said. “I didn’t like that at all.”
Daly approached his mother and told her that he was thinking of attending college much closer to home.
“Mom told me, ‘No. No way. I’ll be all right,’” Daly recalled. “She insisted that I keep my commitment and told me not to worry about her. She put me over her own concerns. You never forget something like that.”
Daly was viewed as one to watch early on. Not in Dartmouth football, where he was a running back before graduating in 1986, but at law.
He began working as a paralegal at Skadden in New York in 1988. Shepard Goldfein, a partner at the firm who would become Daly’s mentor, assigned him to the team representing the NFL in separate lawsuits brought against the league by the USFL and by former New York Jets running back Freeman McNeil.
“Bill was a stellar performer,” Goldfein said. “He was a walking encyclopedia of sports and absorbed everything we threw at him. He was also tireless, an unbelievable recruit for us.”
“It was apparent that Bill was special,” Goldfein said. “He was clearly on a partner track here.”
Two years later, a chain of events altered that plan. Jeff Pash, then Bettman’s chief legal officer, left the NHL to join Paul Tagliabue at the NFL.
“Jeff Pash is an extraordinary lawyer,” said Bob Batterman, the NHL’s lead outside counsel from Proskauer who has worked with Pash on cases for the NFL and NHL. “When I heard he was leaving to go to work for Paul, my first thought was that Jeff would be impossible to replace.”
Bettman asked friends at Proskauer and Skadden for recommendations. As much as he didn’t want to lose him at Skadden, Goldfein told Bettman, “I have your guy. His name is Bill Daly.”
Bettman was reticent. Daly was young and hadn’t been working for a league.
“I told Gary, ‘Just meet him,’” Goldfein said. “Gary did and called me back soon after and said, ‘You’re right.’”
Daly met with Bettman at the league offices at 1251 Avenue of the Americas in New York. The meeting, which was joined briefly by then-NHL Chief Operating Officer Steve Solomon, lasted more than two hours.
“It was scary, a little bit intimidating,” Daly said. “But I started to get comfortable and there was an immediate connection. We talked about a lot of things — where the NHL stood, what Gary hoped to accomplish with three years as commissioner behind him. I felt good about how it went.”
Bettman recalled, “I liked that he was smart, poised, young and aggressive. I remembered back to my days as general counsel at the NBA and thought that Bill could grow into the position spectacularly. I was right.”
Bettman made an offer soon afterward and Daly took two days to accept. On Dec. 13, 1996, Daly reported to work at the NHL.
There would be plenty of difficult days ahead. Lengthy, at times nasty battles with the NHLPA resulted in a pair of lockouts: one that canceled the 2004-05 season and another that shortened the 2012-13 regular season from 82 to 48 games
Sitting in his office at NHL headquarters as training camps for this season were about to open, Daly reflected on the last two CBA negotiations.
Discussions in 2004-05 with union leaders Bob Goodenow and Ted Saskin were almost entirely focused on the
Says Daly, "If I feel strongly enough about our position and our ability to defend it, I'll say, 'Let's litigate it.' Although I'm spending the owners' money to litigate, it is money well-spent if you're protecting the integrity of the league."
Photo by:Getty Images
“This past negotiation was tougher for me, personally, than 2004-05,” Daly said. “The 2004-05 negotiation was more a war of wills. It was a black-and-white negotiation. This time, it was much less black-and-white because we needed some changes to the system, and that made it more difficult. No one in ’04-05 wanted to miss a full season, but everyone recognized it was a real possibility. This time around, it would have been a much bigger collective failure if we didn’t get to a resolution. The stress associated with that made it tougher.”
Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who worked closely with Daly on the recent labor agreement, said the deputy commissioner was in control throughout.
“Bill never goes out of his emotional bandwidth,” Leonsis said. “He also had a strong moral compass, which I believed helped both sides eventually strike a deal. He would say to us, ‘I understand where the union is coming from’ with some of their asks. He also had no trouble telling the players, ‘I don’t feel this is fair and we’re not changing this part because we have done the analytics.’ A very good CBA was crafted, and Bill was essential to that work.”
There were some hard feelings between the league and NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr during the lockout, and it is unclear if they have dissipated.
“Don Fehr is not an easy person to deal with as a critical leader across the table,” Batterman said. “He’s got an attitude to his approach that can be difficult to work with, but Gary and Bill recognize that it’s not Don’s job to make things easy for the league. Bill puts aside ideology and tries to cut a fair deal. Most importantly, the union knows that when Bill speaks, he is speaking for Gary and the owners.”
Daly was reluctant to speak in detail about his relationship with the NHLPA’s leadership. Steve Fehr, special counsel to the NHLPA, was more open, with a sense of humor.
“Bill and I were able to communicate with each other very clearly and got to know each other well,” Steve Fehr said. “There is still a fair amount of communication between us. Of course, there is far less tension than there was, say, around last Christmas.”
Despite the contentious labor talks during the 2012-13 lockout, Steve Fehr said he has strong admiration for his counterpart.
“In all the years that I have spent in these kinds of negotiations, I can’t think of another person as familiar with all aspects of the league’s operation as Bill is with the NHL’s,” said Fehr, a former executive at the MLBPA. “He’s a very valuable asset to the league. I have a high opinion of him.”
While Bettman takes the brunt of the media and fan heat for the lockouts and any controversial rulings as the face of the league office, Daly is no pushover. He is involved in every decision facing the league, from collective bargaining to Olympic participation, and is the direct report for the league’s legal, security, central registry and scheduling staffs. When a club doesn’t follow guidelines for sponsorships, it’s Daly who calls with a warning or punishment.
When the New York Rangers — the team of Daly’s youth — attempted to break from league policy and run their team website independently by filing an antitrust lawsuit in 2007, Daly and the NHL aggressively fought back. In 2008, the NHL asked a U. S. District Court to allow the league to fine, suspend and possibly terminate the franchise.
A private settlement was reached between the two sides in 2009.
For Daly, it’s about principle.
Daly walks with Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs (left) and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Chairman Larry Tanenbaum during last year’s talks on a new labor contract.
Photo by:Getty Images
Daly said he is empowered by the confidence Bettman shows in him. The two communicate by email constantly throughout the day and night. The morning often begins with a 15-minute face-to-face in the office.
“There’s no area that he doesn’t include me in,” Daly said. “Gary makes a conscious effort to inform me. There’s also a side of Gary that people who don’t work closely with him don’t know about. His loyalty is really endearing. He expects you to go to the mat for him, but he also goes to the mat for you.”
Bettman said his reasons for disclosing everything to Daly are simple.
“For starters, two heads are better than one,” Bettman said. “And, frankly, it makes my life easier.”
Bill Daly, the man who could be the next commissioner of the NHL, likes beer.
Don Maloney, the general manager of the Phoenix Coyotes, said Daly is an effective leader because, “He’s a good man with street-smart mannerisms, a guy you want to have a beer with.”
At the end of a long day of league business, Daly occasionally enjoys having a few bottles of beer with his colleagues.
“It’s really my only alcoholic beverage of choice,” he said. “I think it’s a good social drink. People let their guards down a bit and have fun. It’s a nice way of developing some relationships.”
Among Daly’s other favorite things is Disney World, which he has visited more than a dozen times.
“Now that [youngest son] Liam is 3 1/2, I see a lot of Disney World in my future,” he said with a smile. “I like a lot of things that Disney stands for and I’m always impressed with how they operate.”
Otherwise, his entertainment choices revolve entirely around sports. Besides NHL games, Daly loves to watch the other big leagues in person and on television.
“The priority to spend as much of my free time with my family is paramount,” Daly said. “Then it’s following sports.”
His mother’s lessons on keeping commitments resonates in Daly’s personal life. Every other late Friday afternoon, at the end of another long workweek, Daly departs the NHL offices in midtown Manhattan for Maryland, where he visits with his teenage son and daughter from his previous marriage. He married his current wife, Gloria, in 2007.
“After he puts in crazy hours, nothing’s stopping Bill from making that drive through traffic to see his children,” said Batterman.
Of course, Daly is not listening to the radio while driving the New Jersey Turnpike.
“It’s a four-hour drive,” Daly said. “I’m on the phone for most of it. I get some work done. One of the more remarkable things about this job is that you never run out of things to do.”
After 17 years in the league, he still rarely stops.
“He amazes me,” said Murray Edwards, the owner of the Calgary Flames and a member of the league’s board of directors. “I’ll speak to him the morning after one of our games and he knows who scored our goals and everything about the game. We’re lucky to have our No. 2 person in the league love the game so much and be so approachable even during the most challenging circumstances.”
This summer, Daly upgraded the equipment in the gym in his Fairfield, N.J., home. Friends say that Daly, who works out before getting to the office, is always conscious of his health. He has been known at times to write down everything he eats. He sometimes wears a step-counter and once was seen walking briskly around the airport tarmac after the league’s private airplane made a fuel stop in Missouri.
“As an ex-football player, I was never the slimmest guy in the world,” he said. “I’m already a bit overweight. I want to be able to enjoy life with my wife and children. Especially with the stress and hours that come with work, I could be enormous if I didn’t watch what I eat and try to live a healthy lifestyle. Of course, the beer doesn’t really mesh with that philosophy. But at least it’s light beer.”
There is labor peace for the next decade. The league is no longer the caretaker of the Phoenix Coyotes, who were owned by the NHL for the last four years before they were purchased this summer. The sale of the New Jersey Devils by Jeff Vanderbeek to a group led by Josh Harris ended the possibility of another burden for Bettman, Daly and the league office.
There will always be fires to put out, cases to litigate. But Daly figures to have a little more time on his hands this season — time he plans on using to improve as a leader.
“It’s a good time to work on my weaknesses,” he said. “I want to improve on managing people and delegating.
Some people will say that I put too much on myself that could be done just as effectively by others. That, in turn, would enhance their professional development. I also need to take more time to get to know the people here better. Sometimes, I’m more accessible to people outside the organization than inside it. That’s not the right way to approach things.”
Despite his concerns, Daly has a reputation as one of the most approachable power brokers in sports. In July, he accepted an invitation by the Vancouver Canucks to speak at an event for season-ticket holders. Although Canucks management and fans had been critical of officiating during the last few years of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Daly didn’t hesitate to answer the bell.
He flew six hours to Vancouver, stayed overnight, and returned to New York the next morning — all so he could participate in a 45-minute session in which he was likely to absorb some verbal jabs.
“He was in the middle of the Coyotes transaction and finalizing the deal for NHL players to be in the Olympics, but Bill kept his promise,” said Canucks President Victor de Bonis. “That says everything you need to know about Bill’s commitment and his people skills.”
As expected, the fans cornered Daly about their perception of bias from the league’s referees against the Canucks.
“I knew it was coming, so I prepared a bit,” Daly said. “I started out with, ‘The game changes in the playoffs.’”
Daly laughed. “Yeah, that didn’t go over very well.”
By the end of the event, Daly won over most of the crowd of more than 5,000 with his candor and sense of humor.
“I enjoyed it,” Daly said. “Everyone close to me knows that intellectual debate is one of my favorite pastimes.”
From that 100-page memo as a law firm associate two decades ago to the current negotiations for a new Canadian media rights deal, in which Daly is supporting the efforts of Bettman and NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins, Daly hasn’t lost his zeal for his work.
“The scope of the issues that come up in my job every day is almost infinite,” Daly said. “It makes it very interesting, challenging, intellectually provocative. I don’t find the hours burdensome because I love what I do so much.”
Bill Daly is flattered when the subject is raised of his possible future as the next commissioner of the NHL — even if that future is far down the road.
Daly has strong support from club owners and executives, who view him as the inevitable and deserving successor to Gary Bettman.
“When the time comes, Bill absolutely deserves to be commissioner,” said Mark Chipman, chairman and governor of the Winnipeg Jets.
“Having watched Gary and Bill interact for 15 years, I can tell you it appears that Bill is next up,” said Nashville Predators CEO Jeff Cogen. “If that’s the case, then our league is in good hands for the next generation.”
Daly is seen as the logical choice to succeed Commissioner Gary Bettman, but he’s content in his role.
Photo by:Getty Images
“There are two things to know: I’m 100 percent happy with what I do here,” he said. “And Gary’s going to be here a long time, which is good for me.”
Indeed, there is no uncertainty over Bettman’s future.
“If Gary decides to take a step back someday, Bill would be great, but Gary himself has told me that he still loves what he does and hopes to do it for a long time,” said Calgary Flames co-owner and Chairman Murray Edwards.
“Any transition at the NHL isn’t happening any time soon.”
Daly wants Bettman to stay as long as he would like and pledged to be as loyal to the commissioner as Bettman has been to him.
“I love what I do and the challenges we get to face,” Daly said. “I love working with Gary. I love the sport. There’s nothing that’s pushing me away. If I never had another job in my career and retired as the deputy commissioner of the National Hockey League, it would have been a very good and satisfying career. But who knows what the future holds?”
One thing is certain: When the opportunity arises, Daly will have Bettman’s nomination.
When asked if he would recommend to the board of governors upon his departure that Daly succeed him as commissioner, Bettman said, “Of course. I have great confidence in Bill. If I didn’t, he wouldn’t be my partner.”
The Daly file
■ Family: Wife, Gloria; daughter, Taylor; sons, Brendan and Liam
■ Education: Dartmouth College (1986); New York University School of Law (1990)
■ NHL hires Daly as senior vice president of legal affairs, after six years as an attorney with the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
■ With the newly created NHL International, Daly assumes responsibility for all of the league’s international businesses, in addition to his current duties.
■ Daly brokers a deal between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation that states the age at which teams can sign European prospects, how long they can hold onto them, and how much European clubs are compensated for the loss of their stars.
■ On Sept. 15, the NHL collective-bargaining agreement expires and the owners announce a player lockout. The labor impasse eventually forces the league to cancel the season.
■ In July, the NHLPA approves a new CBA, with a 464-68 vote, ending the player lockout. Daly was the league’s main negotiator during collective bargaining with the players.
■ Following the end of the lockout, the NHL promotes Daly to deputy commissioner.
■ Daly helps negotiate a two-year, $135 million deal with Comcast for the league’s cable broadcasting rights.
■ NHL signs a 10-year, $2 billion deal with NBC and Versus for the league’s media rights.
■ With the league’s CBA set to expire on Sept. 15, Daly says he does not anticipate the negotiations to be particularly contentious or prolonged.
■ The NHL and NHLPA hold the first formal bargaining session in June.
■ On Sept. 15, the NHL’s CBA expires at midnight, and the league locks out its players.
■ In November, the NHL cancels the Winter Classic, and later the 2013 NHL All-Star Weekend.
■ In January, the NHL Board of Governors unanimously approves a new CBA, ending the lockout. However, time lost to the lockout forces teams to play 48 regular-season games instead of the usual 82.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research
Like a police car, it has a rotating red light on top and an ear-splitting siren.
It’s a pizza cutter, a bottle opener, an alarm clock, a key ring and a pen.
It is the Goal Light line of products from Fan Fever, a relatively new company that has captured the unrivaled frenzy and joy of an NHL goal in a series of licensed products. It’s a way for hockey fanatics to relive their favorite NHL moments by using products that include the red light and cacophonous horn that celebrate a home team’s goal in every NHL arena.
The Goal Light started as a single model with a hockey puck remote, but can now be found on everything from pens to bottle openers.
Photo by:Fan Fever
With a family die-cast business (Ertl) that licensed many of its top sellers, Stoneman was already considering some form of NHL licensing. During the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 championship run, he had rigged a simple red light bulb in his basement to celebrate every important goal. Soon enough, his internal goal light went on: the Goal Light could be a consumer product.
Leaning on his experience in offshore manufacturing and toy/novelty distribution, Stoneman added sound and a puck-shape remote. A sample was finished within six weeks.
After selling an unlicensed version for a year, an NHL license was granted in July 2011, when the product debuted at the annual NHL Exchange Licensing show in Toronto. Now the product comes with team logo stickers and includes the distinct goal horn sounds from all 30 NHL arenas.
The Goal Light is one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” products, started by a hockey aficionado for his fellow
The Goal Light and its associated products have become enough of a staple that they are sold by large retailers — including Kohl’s, Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods — along with nearly every hockey retailer of note, from Total Hockey and the NHL Store in New York City, to NHL.com, Hockeymonkey.com and Purehockey.com.
Gunzo’s, a chain of hockey specialty stores in Chicago, was the first retailer to stock the Goal Light. Buyer Greg Kostner saw a prototype at a sports bar during the Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup run. The retail product was available by the time the 2010-11 season started, and Gunzo’s took that first Goal Light out of the box and put it by the front cash register. Customers couldn’t stop playing with it.
Now, many of the store’s hockey-centric customers consider the Goal Light as essential a part of watching a Blackhawks game on TV as having a beer or two nearby.
“People recognized the goal horn from the United Center and loved it right away,” Kostner said. “It’s just very unique. How many other products make you instantly think of hockey and the elation you feel when a goal’s scored?”
That feeling is a formula for sales success.
“It’s a product every hockey fan loves the minute they see it, and it just screams ‘NHL hockey,’ so we love that,” said Dave McCarthy, NHL vice president of consumer products marketing. He said the Goal Light is one of the top-selling nonapparel items on NHL.com and at the NHL Store.
The original Goal Light with the hockey puck remote retails for $49.99. The alarm clock sells for $35.99, the bottle opener for $15.99 and the key ring for $9.99.
Anheuser-Busch has started selling its own version of the goal light.
In some cases, the appeal of Fan Fever’s Goal Light has extended beyond hockey. Stoneman has heard of teachers using it in classrooms to note a particularly astute response from a student.
“We didn’t know how broad its appeal would be,” he said.
Broad enough that there are also Goal Light toy hockey sticks; hand-held Goal Light “torches” for fans to hold aloft; a string of Goal Lights (a la Christmas tree light strings); and nightlights, the only Goal Light product without sound. That’s in addition to the pens, pizza cutters, bottle openers and alarm clocks.
Given his die-cast background, Stoneman also took a Zamboni license and is selling lights and diecast products with Zamboni/NHL indicia along with a Zamboni tent for kids. As for future products, Stoneman is considering a product for which an NFL license would make sense, along with adding other hockey licenses.
“The Goal Light products just bring people closer to the game,” Stoneman said. “Any product that does that will find an audience. And so it has.”
Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but the NHL is negotiating with regional sports networks about the possibility of streaming local games this season.
For at least the fifth season in a row, the league and RSNs started talks over the summer to try to find the best way to move forward with an in-market streaming plan that would allow RSNs to make games available to broadband and mobile users via the cable industry’s TV Everywhere initiative.
Both sides have hit the wall in previous talks, with price being the main issue.
Photo by:Getty Images
Even if deals are struck in the next few days or weeks, it’s unlikely that any streaming system will be ready in time for the league’s season debut. It could be introduced later in the season, though.
The NBA and MLB also have been unable to reach local streaming deals with RSNs. Some Major League Soccer teams, like D.C. United, have streamed road matches that were not available on television. Monumental Networks picked up rights to stream those games. It’s not known how many people watched the streams.
The NFL streams its games through Verizon and DirecTV. NBC and ESPN stream the games they produce.
The NHL talks have become something of an annual tradition, as the league, teams and RSNs look to build out their broadband and mobile offerings.
For the past five years, neither side has been close to reaching an agreement. The most contentious issue, sources said, has been price.
The NHL views local streaming as a potential new revenue stream that would be a nice complement to the money it brings in from its TV rights. The league office is conducting the talks with the executives of each RSN group.
It’s not known how much the league is seeking for rights to stream games locally. In the past, RSNs complained that the league was overestimating the market. Three years ago, for example, various local streaming tests produced underwhelming results. Fox Sports Net and NBC Sports Group have not conducted extensive local streaming tests in recent years.
But streamed video has become more important to RSNs, as more channels adopt the TV Everywhere system, where authenticated cable subscribers are allowed to stream channels to their broadband and mobile devices.
Fox, for example, is working to launch a mobile application called Fox Sports Go. It was expected to be ready for the August launch of Fox Sports 1, but was delayed.
There’s still no timetable for the app’s launch. Though when it does, in-market local streaming is expected to be a pillar of the service.
With streaming services like ESPN3 and HBO Go becoming more popular, the market for streaming services is becoming hotter.
Money is not the only holdup. RSNs won’t roll out streaming services unless mobile rights are part of the offering. In recent years, the NHL wanted to sell broadband and mobile rights separately, sources said.
The NFL sold streaming rights to its Sunday afternoon games to Verizon, signing a four-year deal earlier this summer.