NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Thursday said that he "never had a doubt the NHL would rebound from one of its darkest moments" in last season's lockout, according to Chris Kuc of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Bettman said, "We obviously never like going through (that) but the long-term health of the game requires that you make difficult decisions to make sure you have the right foundation. The league came back extraordinarily strong last year. ... I've always believed in the game and I've always believed in our fans." Blackhawks Chair Rocky Wirtz, "one of the hard-line owners who pushed for an agreement that would greatly favor the franchises, also said he had no doubt the league would rebound." Wirtz: "I know it sounds funny now, but I believe that it was just getting over the hump. Collective bargaining is a process and it's never easy." Wirtz said that "all is forgiven -- and forgotten -- after negotiations often took an ugly turn with some players expressing their frustration in the media with harsh words directed at the owners of their teams" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/20). Bettman said of the league's future, "We just want more of the same. We want to continue to build off the foundation we have. The game on the ice is as strong as it's ever been. And we're looking to continue to find ways to connect with our fans that will energize our fan base and grow it." The CP noted Bettman "doesn't foresee expansion to Europe, something that's been occasionally considered for more than 30 years." Bettman said, "It's really hard to do, some of it logistics. We want to be good citizens in the institutional hockey world, but there is a growing interest throughout the world. That's something we're going to continue to try to satisfy" (CP, 9/19).
THE GREAT OUTDOORS: ESPN CHICAGO's Scott Powers noted Bettman "was unsure of the future of the league’s outdoor games after this season, but the Blackhawks said they’d be interested in having more games in Chicago, including one at U.S. Cellular Field." The Blackhawks will host the Penguins at Soldier Field on March 1, 2014 as part of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. Bettman thought that six outdoor games in the '13-14 season was the "perfect number, but he didn’t know if the NHL would consider making the stadium series an annual event." He said, "We’ll see how well we do with the weather, and we’ll take a deep breath when we get to mid-March and say, ‘Okay, what worked well? Is this is the right number? Should we do more? Do less?’" Bettman "didn’t believe the NHL was in a dangerous territory of having too many outdoor games in a season." He added, "Let’s keep in mind and in perspective that we play 1,230 regular-season games, so we’re doing six" (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 9/19). In Illinois, Tim Sassone notes Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough and Wirtz "basically lobbied Bettman for another outdoor game since playing at Wrigley Field" in '09. McDonough: "You've got to ask. During conversations we had with (Bettman), we tried to skillfully weave in how unique this city is." Sassone noted all that is "left is for the Hawks to host the All-Star Game and entry draft" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 9/20).
BEAVER STADIUM TO HOST PENS-FLYERS? NHL COO John Collins on Thursday said that a potential Penguins-Flyers game at Penn State Univ.'s Beaver Stadium "has one significant obstacle to overcome," in that one of the teams would have to give up a home game. Collins: "It's always fun to come up with those scenarios in the league office or as a third party, but at the end of the day it does require a club to give up a home game. We haven't broached that yet." In Pittsburgh, Rob Rossi notes, "Neither side is eager to dismiss the Beaver Stadium game as a possibility, but there is no firm agreement between the Penguins and Flyers on how to pull off a neutral site game" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 9/20).
The FedExCup Playoffs "have provided great theater," and have been a "great diversion from raking leaves for people already ardent about golf," according to Karen Crouse of the N.Y. TIMES. But are the playoffs "delivering a new audience to the game?" Golfer Jason Dufner said, "Golf fans are always going to watch golf no matter if football’s going on or not. But you’re going to have a tough time pulling guys away from watching their favorite universities, their favorite NFL teams, during this time of year. I don’t think us doing the playoffs really has that much of an impact on it.” Aided by a "late charge" from Tiger Woods, who finished one stroke behind winner Adam Scott, the final-round coverage of The Barclays, the first event of the playoffs, "earned a 3.7 overnight rating on CBS, up from 2.7 last year." Nielsen figures show the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, the next event, "had 3.2 million viewers on NBC," down 34% from '12, when the final round "was the most-viewed FedEx Cup telecast since 2007." Meanwhile, Golf Channel’s coverage of Jim Furyk’s second-round 59 at last week's BMW Championship "drew an audience of just under 1.1 million." Dufner said, “The guys that are into football aren’t going to pay too much attention to the playoffs, especially at the beginning of the year." Golfer Brandt Snedeker: “The last four weeks going up against the NFL, I think it’s our best product. I would like to think it is making a dent, because you have Tiger, Phil playing, and there are a bunch of different scenarios playing out this week that can really draw a viewer in" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/20).
POINTS SYSTEM PROVIDES VOLATILITY: USA TODAY's Steve DiMeglio wrote with the "volatility of the points structure, a player might not fully understand where he stands at any given moment during the playoffs." As has "been the case since the Tour changed the points system for the playoffs starting in 2009, theFedExCup playoffs prove that Yogi Berra was right -- it ain't over till it's over." Golfer Zach Johnson said, "It's not like you have to win every week to win that FedExCup, you've just got to win at the right times or play well at the right times." Woods said, "The first couple of years there was really no drama going into The Tour Championship. ... Now anybody that's in the top five at the Tour Championship, if they win, they automatically win the FedExCup. You're playing all year to be in the top five. That makes the Tour Championship exciting" (USATODAY.com, 9/18).
In Toronto, Steve Buffery notes the UFC "doesn't release purses as a marketing tool, and their fighters don't usually reveal what they make." Jon Jones for his Saturday fight against Alexander Gustafsson is "probably making around $500,000 for his purse, plus fight bonuses and a cut on the pay-per-view revenues." But there is a "growing sense inside and outside the UFC that the organization ... is generally shortchanging its fighters." Jones for his part said that he will "never complain about what he makes," but added that he is "hopeful the UFC will start bumping up purses." Jones: "I know Dana White knows that the fighters could be upgraded a little bit, especially his top-level guys, and that maybe he'll put some thought into that and move in that direction in the future." Buffery writes it seems "more UFC fighters, retired and active, are coming out and risking the wrath of White by questioning pay structure" (TORONTO SUN, 9/20).
WORKING THROUGH THE ISSUES: The AP's Doug Feinberg noted the WNBA's current CBA is set to expire on Sept. 30, which is "before the end" of the league's playoffs. WNBA officials "aren't concerned there would be any interruption once its contract expires." The two sides "met during the league's All-Star weekend at the end of July, but haven't had many face-to-face conversations since." WNBPA Dir of Operations Pam Wheeler said, "We would like to accelerate the bargaining process. The pace has been slower than the players would like and we would like. We view the expiration with a sense of urgency" (AP, 9/19).
NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT: MLS Commissioner Don Garber last week said three of the four teams in a new round of expansion are "already spoken for." SPORTS ON EARTH's Howard Megdal wrote what is "fascinating about this move is not that the league is expanding," but that all three of the "spoken-for teams are situated in the same geographic area, the Southeast, where no current MLS teams reside, and where the league had its greatest failure since its inception" in '96. This move for MLS is "best likened to baseball's westward expansion." The last time MLS "tried this, the league wasn't ready to take flight for other, more complicated reasons." But MLS execs have "done their homework since, and there's little reason to worry about the league's effort to become a truly national league." Megdal: "It's time" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 9/17).