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Volume 25 No. 48
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Bettman Reflects On 25 Years With NHL, Claims Lockouts Resulted In Stronger League

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman touched on topics ranging from Olympic participation to being booed while awarding the Stanley Cup while speaking at SBJ/SBD’s inaugural Dealmakers in Sports conference in N.Y. yesterday. During an interview with Proskauer Chair Joe Leccese, Bettman reflected on his start at the league nearly 25 years ago and how he “survived the interview process” by focusing on how hockey is a “great sport with great athletes, but it was underexposed.” He said, “A tremendous growth spurt was needed as part of some sort of national television broadcast, and it needed to have an economic system that made sense.” He noted the belief that the NBA salary cap that he helped create while part of that league was going to be the prototype for all pro sports. Turning to the media landscape, Bettman said he is excited to see how the space and technology continues to evolve, especially as more major league rights and properties become available in the next few years. Bettman said there has not been as much major live sports on digital platforms because those rights have not come up yet, and he believes there may be a change in how properties and leagues “slice and dice” their offerings, depending on what media companies are willing to pay for exclusivity. He also noted the league loves being on NBC in the U.S., and that this is the first media rights deal that the NHL has had where all of its playoff games are available nationally.

HOLDING PATTERN: Bettman also spoke about the lockouts the league has gone through during his tenure, saying that “lockouts are painful and difficult not just for people at the league office, teams and for the players -- they are most of all painful for the fans.” However, he said, there was a “change to the system” as a result, which led to a stronger product that followed. “We came back to record attendance and record revenues,” he said. “I don’t know of any business that has closed its doors for its entire year and done that.” The launch of the expansion Golden Knights has been one of the biggest successes for the NHL this season, and Bettman credited the vision of team Owner Bill Foley. He remarked on the deep connection the team already has with the city, especially following the tragic shooting at Mandalay Bay. The team altered its pregame ceremonies before its inaugural home game, which was held just a few days later, to celebrate first responders and victims of the attack. “It represented what a sports team can do for a community in terms of unity and healing,” Bettman said. While on the topic of expansion, Bettman said that even though the league now sits at an odd number, with 31 teams, it will not consider expansion just “for the notions of symmetry.” Bettman: “We don’t have the manifest destiny of having 32 teams. If it happens, it happens.”