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Volume 24 No. 159
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Gary Bettman "Grateful" For NHL's Early-Season TV, Attendance Numbers

Early TV and attendance numbers suggest that fans have started returning to the NHL, a development that has allowed league Commissioner Gary Bettman to breathe a sigh of relief. Bettman told THE DAILY yesterday, "We could be hopeful all we wanted, but we didn't take anything for granted. We are grateful and we are excited." NBC saw its highest regular-season TV audiences (excluding the Winter Classic) for its opening games on Saturday, and all local NHL ratings posted a collective 32% increase versus the same number of games at the start of last season. Bettman, who has been to four games in five nights, credited the NHL clubs with effectively reaching out to the fans. "We really thought that it was most important initially that the fans reconnect with their teams," he said. "We took out ads in every market nationally in Canada and the U.S. But we thought it was more important initially that all of our efforts be focused on backstopping the clubs as they reached out." Bettman pointed to clubs' efforts to discount tickets, food and merchandise for helping draw a connection to the fans. "The major effort and focus we thought needed to be at the club level. So far, that seems to have been the right approach," he said. "All of our clubs have been doing special things in their markets and they've all been tailored to their fans and the reaction has been phenomenal, and we're grateful" (John Ourand, THE DAILY).

: The AP's Dan Gelston wrote there is a "good deal to be found in the NHL," as teams continue to offer "slashed prices and freebies" to fans as a thank you for sticking by the sport through the lockout. Penguins C Sidney Crosby said, "I think it's great to see that we're still getting the turnout that we're getting." Gelston: "Maybe it helped the league said it was sorry." The NHL bought full-page ads in about 40 newspapers across the U.S. and Canada "thanking fans for their patience and apologizing for the lost games" (AP, 1/23). In Illinois, Mike Imrem writes the lockout was "supposed to turn off fans for good this time." Those watching "at home, many of them casual hockey fans at best, were the ones expected to forget about this game." But those in the media were "wrong in projecting gloom and doom for the NHL." The lockout was "a positive for the league as it tries to gain ground on the NFL, MLB and NBA" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 1/24).

THE KID IS ALRIGHT: Many Maple Leafs players last night before their game against the Penguins said that Crosby's presence during CBA negotiations "was a significant factor in getting a deal done." Leafs RW Joffrey Lupul said, "When you have the face of your sport working hard, trying to get something done, I think everybody notices. It meant a lot to all of us." In Pittsburgh, Josh Yohe notes no NHLer has "publicly questioned Crosby, even though he aligned himself with an owner." Rather, Crosby's work "seems to have inspired many." Leafs LW James Van Riemsdyk: "I think you can honestly say that what he did was appreciated by everyone" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1/24).