Breaking Sports

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

nhl- Bettman's Thoughts

Recently Gary Bettman met with a large financial organization and discussed his role as commissioner; how he judges success, the culture of hockey, the recent lockout and key leadership qualities.
Thanks to a reader of Breaking Sports for passing this on.

Q: How do you judge your success in any given year?
GARY BETTMAN: Sports franchises are interesting. They get valued the way Internet companies used to, before the bubble burst. What are the revenues? And the little secret is because, other than the NFL, most franchises don't have a bottom line that would interest anybody. People make investments in sports teams because they think they can turn it around, they think it's a good asset value, to express civic pride. There are lots of reasons that go into the mix. But at some point, the economics don't work to a sufficiently large degree that it becomes untenable. And that's where we are.
The way we judge ourselves is our fan base. Our fans are what make us tick. Tell us how well we're connecting. 10 years ago, we drew 14 million fans to our games. The last four years, we drew 20 million fans to our games. So there's been a dramatic increase. Are our games entertaining? Are people watching them on television? How good is our exposure? How much does the media cover us? And how many fans do we have?

Q: A lot of what you talk about is the development of a culture that's particular to your league. And therefore that community is an important one, and the spirit of that community. So it must have been hard for you to make a decision to go for a lockout. Was it hard? And how did you make that decision?
BETTMAN: The answer is, of course, it was hard. But we all have to make hard decisions. For the reasons you talk about, culture, the people associated with the game, the game itself, it was painful more than it was hard. Because, you know, it's hard to say you're shutting down your business. And our business runs on a seasonal basis. So we've decided we're not going to play an entire season. So it was hard on the emotional level.
From a business level – and you have to separate the two – it was, unfortunately, very easy. We lost less money this year than we did the last year we played. So it cost us less to stay in existence even though we weren't playing, than to play under the old collective bargaining agreement. We had too many clubs that were losing too much money. And it was also impacting the quality of our product, because we don't have enough teams that are fully competitive. And we owe it to our fans, our consumers, to do better than that.