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Gary Bettman must go

Auteur: dmiller
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Gary Bettman must go
Credit: Getty Images
Gary Bettman is an unloved genius.

No, no, I’m not a Gary Bettman fanatic. In the type of person he is, we’re a long way from a humanist like Jean Béliveau or a hockey enthusiast like Patrick Roy. Bettman is a cold man, charismatic as a rock and with a relatively low, if not non-existent, emotional level.

And the NHL needed such a man… and I mean needed!

The NHL has never been better:

1. For the owners

Since the early 2000s, the league’s revenues have practically tripled, from $2.2 billion to $6.4 billion, despite two labor disputes and the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s all about to accelerate!

With the next TV contract, but especially streaming, it will be easier to access NHL content and for team owners to sell their product in their respective markets.

Added to this is the fact that the value of the teams has exploded. According to Forbes and as of the 2022-23 season, more than 23 of the NHL’s 32 teams are worth $1,000,000,000. This group includes the youngest franchise (the Seattle Kraken) with a value of $1.2 billion and an entry price of $650 million, after only three seasons of existence. That’s a wicked good deal, my Fitzgibon!

You might say that the failures of Atlanta (to Winnipeg) and Arizona (to Utah) cast a shadow over Bettman’s career. When you’ve got a list of 5-6 cities that are willing to take on a lame duck or two if need be, you can afford to be a little stubborn and pull your punches when you feel like it. The Coyotes’ fast-track move to Utah is the best example.

And today, the teams are in good shape and no major crisis seems to be on the horizon.

2. For the players

The salary cap structure gives astronomical advantages to players. With an average salary of $3.5 million and revenue sharing with the owners, players are getting richer. Not only richer, but getting richer faster in their careers.

Teams are now prepared to award huge contracts before players have even put points on the board. Juraj Slafkovsky’s most recent contract is a case in point! At $7.6 million for eight years, few analysts took issue with the contract, even though the kid had only one really good season. The vast majority of journalists feel that the salary cap structure justifies, in the medium to long term, awarding these contracts immediately after the rookie’s entry-level contract.

For the players, it allows them to cash in as quickly as possible, and for the teams to plan their long-term investments in player talent and see the needs in this same resource. It’s a win-win situation for both parties.

At the same time, Bettman has taken the wind out of the sails of the Players’ Association.

(Credit: Getty Images)
3. For the hockey fans

Let’s face it, since the new collective bargaining agreement, a number of changes at the NHL have made the product more and more interesting, not to say exciting. Personally, I wasn’t at all a fan of the new playoffs. I have to admit that, under the new formula, every series attracts attention.

The quality and intensity of the product have greatly improved, and rivalries have intensified. Whatever anyone says, we’ve all been following the Xᵉ chapter of the Toronto vs Boston rivalry. Damn, it’s fun to see two sworn enemies fight together, and the spectacle around the series is excellent.

For the fan, Bettman has put the International Olympic Committee to shame. After a catastrophic absence of NHL players, the IOC realized it needed the Bettman circuit to draw attention to the Winter Olympics. Bettman has therefore won his bet and is reaping all the benefits for the league, the players and, above all, the fan, who will be able to relive the magic of this magical tournament.

But Bettman must go…

However, all good things must come to an end. Bettman has put the NHL back on the map, and the league is healthy. Its foundations are solid. But is he the best man for the next step: rejuvenating the fan base? The answer is no.

Hockey’s conservatism means he’s not the best person to take the circuit a step higher.

With the eventual arrival of an official streaming broadcaster (which younger fans have easier access to) and the flatness of NHL promotional events (All-Star weekend, the draft, etc.). The NHL needs to take the same path as the NBA, and focus on a marketing revival.

I don’t pretend to have the solutions to remedy the situation, but the NHL is in danger of becoming the new MLB, a league with an increasingly old clientele that risks seeing the inequalities between franchises grow at a rapid rate.

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