WILL GARY BETTMAN GET IT RIGHT?
The following article was written by guest writer, Howard Roark. Howard has contributed several articles to this site. He shares a love for hockey and our Los Angeles Kings second to none. He has a subtle opinion of our not so beloved commissioner as well. Howard asks, in his own style, if a tree fell on Gary Bettman in the forest, would the hockey world make a sound? Enjoy the article. Yours in Puck, Bobby Scribe.
Imagine that you are Coca-Cola, a product that that relies on worldwide sales for success. Now, you are provided with a global audience to promote your soft drink to literally millions of new consumers who have never had a chance to sample your product. But, the CEO of Coke turns down this opportunity in order to participate in an event that takes place every week in the U.S. which the company has always and will always be a part of. Now, one has an idea of the enormity of the blunder which Gary Bettman is contemplating by not permitting NHL players to play in the Olympics going forward.
The game between Team USA and Team Canada last night may have been the greatest hockey game ever played. It had all the elements of great drama and displayed the power and speed of the game of hockey to a worldwide audience. Of all the major worldwide sports, hockey provides the best transition game, and the only one where the attack can instantly and decisively switch to the other end of the ice at a moment’s notice. The passion displayed by the players wearing their countries’ uniforms is not often equaled at the NHL level. And the reach of the audience that can be drawn by the spectacle of the Olympics happens only once every four years. Only a complete and total marketing moron would pass up the opportunity to showcase this great sport and enormous athletic talent to a global audience.
Yes, one can argue all day about the disadvantages for the NHL to participate in the Olympics. There is the ever present risk of injuries to star players, the loss of revenues to NHL teams during a critical part of the season and the need to shut down the League and most of its players for two weeks. Add to these reasons the time zone difference in Sochi and the need to travel half way around the world, and one can see why the participation by the best players in the world is less than ideal. But, there is no doubt the excitement, the passion and the pure joy we witnessed yesterday is all worth it. Alex Ovechkin gets it. He says he is going to Sochi no matter what Gary Bettman says. Why the most important official in the hockey world does not seize the opportunity is frankly beyond me. It seems rather simple – agree to play in the 2014 Winter Olympics and beyond in return for two simple concessions. Allow the NHL logo to be displayed prominently on all the players’ uniforms and have NBC televise the marquis games in prime time on its main channel instead of on cable like yesterday. That way the League is given the opportunity to market itself in front of the largest possible audience.
It is no secret that I loathe Gary Bettman as Commissioner. His only skill appears to be the ability to navigate the internecine owner politics in the back rooms of the NHL. His Sunbelt strategy has been a dismal failure, soon to be punctuated by retreats from Atlanta and Phoenix back to Quebec and Winnipeg if rumors are to be believed. His missteps cost the NHL the exposure on ESPN, the only major team sport not on the world’s number one sports network. The loss of an entire season over labor problems is a scar that will never fully heal. Worst of all, Bettman was brought in by the owners to market the sport of Hockey. Given the lack of growth in television ratings over his reign, it is hard to argue that Bettman has succeeded in his primary charge. The fact that Olympic participation is even an issue shows extremely poor leadership.
Sometimes, a Commissioner has to take the lead, to move his employers, the owners, into a direction they would not otherwise move. Pete Rozelle convinced the NFL owners to share television revenues equally, a move that ensured the competitive parity for decades that vaulted his League into sports primacy. Happy Chandler openly pushed to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball at a time when many owners were reluctant to move, thereby removing the ugliest stain from the national pastime. Putting the world’s greatest hockey players on the globe’s biggest stage is imperative if hockey is to grow into more than a regional sport. This is where leadership is required, and Gary Bettman has proven he is not the man for the job.