Gary Bettman: The Less of All Evils?
I know before many readers get this far, they’ll have thrown their computer, tablet or phone across the room in anger. And that’s fine. But for those who have not, let me tell you why I think Gary Bettman may be the best commissioner of the four major sports right now.
Now I’m not going to sit here and make the guy out to be perfect. Bettman is far from it. He’s been a part of the past two NHL lockouts, including the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season. He’s not a hockey player at all, but instead a lawyer. And Bettman has been critisized for “commercializing” the once traditional game with shootouts, new rule enforcements and pushing star players Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin onto us all. I believe these add up to a general hatred for the commissioner, who is routinely booed in each of the thirty NHL arenas.
But I’m here to tell you Bettman does a pretty good job. Especially when you look around to the other sports. In today’s NBA, Commissioner David Stern has rendered New Orleans GM Dell Demps useless, simply vetoing any trade involving superstar Chris Paul, who will leave the team at the end of the season. Players and writers refer to the current state of the NBA – who just ended its own 100 day lockout – as a plantation environment.
In MLB, commisioner Bud Selig, formely of Brewers management, has led one of the worst eras in professional sport. Steriod scandals have rocked America’s game, calling all players of the past 25 years into questions. Records books and stat sheets are now filled with *. And what other sport would allow unbalanced divisions (the Brewers -ahem- were part of the 6 team NL Central? Finally Houston was moved to the once 4 team AL West this year.) We’re talking about a sport with two separate sets of rules for each league! That’s like the Eastern Conference playing with icing and the Western Conference not.
That brings us to the NFL. And while you cannot argue with the revenue this sport has produced the storm is brewing around quality of life to former players. While hockey shares these same concerns, they seem exponentially worse in the NFL. Couple this with the inconsistency of officiating in the league, and you’ll find scores of disgruntled fans and players. Any league that can make their rules so complex this is not a catch, is in trouble in my book. Frankly, the NFL players hate Roger Goodell.
So going back to Gary Bettman. Let’s think about some of the good he has done. League revenue is up 750% since his hire. The NHL Salary Cap has grown from $39 million after the 2004-05 lockout to $64.3 today. That shows that the rule changes and adjustments are working. The game is becoming more watchable and ratings are way up. HBO is running 24/7 series on the Winter Classic (a Bettman supported concept), and NBC has signed the league’s largest TV deal of all time. He has hired fan favorite Brendan Shanahan to bring unprecedented clarity to the process of player safety.
I’ll be the first to admit, I was a Bettman hater. A traditionalist. I hated shootouts, hated the individual player marketing. Hated glow pucks and miss the NHL on ESPN theme song. The lockout had me on the edge of depression.
But looking back the holdout was necessary to restructure the game. Bettman is trying, and in many cases succeeding. The league is as healthy as it has been in my life. The Jets are back. We have a ten year national TV deal. And the greatest athletes this game has ever witnessed. And let’s not forget the best playoffs in professional sports.
I’m a fan of Gary Bettman. With some thought and some perspective of the job his peers in other leagues are doing, I think you might be too.