Kukla's Korner

Kukla's Korner Hockey

Complete Transcript Of Gary Bettman Interview Before The SCF

Q. What’s going to happen with Nashville?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: What’s going to happen with Nashville? We have an application by the club for Craig Leipold to sell the Nashville Predators to Jim Balsillie. That is a process that requires us to do some more due diligence, even though we did some in Pittsburgh, we have more to do.
It will require a three-quarter approval by the Board of Governors in terms of whether or not Mr. Balsillie as an owner and this transaction should be approved.
The Predators have a lease that goes, I think, for another 14 years, give or take. There is a possibility that the lease could terminate in a year if certain things do or don’t happen. But as far as we’re concerned right now, Mr. Balsillie’s request for approval and the transaction related solely to him buying the Nashville Predators subject to whatever lease is in effect, and if, in fact, at some point the lease is terminated and he seeks to relocate the franchise, that is something that would have to be considered under the league’s constitution and bylaws at the time.

Q. Would you be concerned of the perception that it could be a foregone conclusion or a self-fulfilling prophecy that the franchise would be moved?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: That’s why I answered the question the way I did. I’m hoping to dispel the perception. If the attendance mark is satisfied, even if it’s not, if the city cures what would then be the default, this team is not going anywhere.
There is a lease, and sports leagues aren’t in the practice of letting teams violate their leases. I believe Mr. Balsillie understands that and it’s conceivable that this team will be in Nashville for as long as its lease, however long that may be.

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Hello, everybody. And welcome to the Stanley Cup Final.
First of all, I’d like to congratulate both clubs, in particular Henry and Susan Samueli, the owners of the Anaheim Ducks, and Mike Schulman and Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle and of course the players and the fans of the Ducks.
You know, interestingly enough, this is the third time in the last 15 years that we’ve been in Southern California for the Stanley Cup Final.
I also would like to congratulate the Ottawa Senators, Eugene Melnyk, Roy Mlakar, John Muckler and Bryan Murray on their outstanding season. And, of course, to their players and to their fans as well.
And for the first time in 80 years we’re going back to play the Final in Ottawa, which I believe was Lord Stanley Preston’s home in Canada when he donated the Stanley Cup.
I also would like to thank all of our fans on what was a terrific season. I’d like to thank them for their great support.
This was another season of record attendance and record revenues. We had a strong, solid season. The game has been entertaining and exciting. And we continue to move in what I believe is a positive direction.
Is everything perfect? Is everything exactly where we would like it to be? Of course not. And it never is for any sports league. It never is for any business.
There will always be issues and challenges, and we are always trying to improve and to do better. However, our issues and our challenges are but a mere fraction of what they were just a few years ago.
So we are feeling good about things, and we are excited about the future.
As I said two years in a row since coming back from the work stoppage, record attendance and record revenues, TV in Canada remains strong. We are a vital and important programming, as evidenced by our new agreement with the CBC extending our relationship for Hockey Night in Canada.
Television in the U.S., obviously it could be better, and we’re working on it. But the media world is changing. And in recognition of that fact we are using new technology in a big way. In the last five months we have signed 15 new agreements with digital partners, and some of those agreements you’re familiar with. YouTube, we were the first league, and there have been 12 million streams of highlights since we entered into that relationship.
Google, there’s been 2 million downloads of games. We were the first league with MySpace, the first league with Joost.
NHL.com, of all the major sports sites, in April had the largest percentage increase in traffic of over 65 percent.
It’s a long-winded way of saying the way that sports interact with media, while traditional television, Nielsen ratings, will always be one measure, it is but one measure of how well we’re doing.
And we think, based on what’s going on with media, there is a great opportunity for us moving forward.
Before taking questions, I’d like to act as a little bit of master of ceremonies in terms of things that you should know about for the next couple of weeks.
One, we are thrilled that the two teams that are playing, they play hockey the way the new rules envisioned. And we think the matchup is going to be very exciting and we’re looking forward to a terrific series.
Two, six of this year’s top prospects in the draft that will be held in Columbus at the end of the month will be here for you to meet with on Wednesday. And so we hope you’ll take an opportunity to meet with them.
Three, six members of the 1955 to ‘60 Montreal Canadiens dynasty team, including “the Pocket Rocket” and Jean Beliveau will be available to meet with you and us at a reception that we’re having on Friday night in Ottawa.
On Saturday we will be presenting three league awards: the Art Ross, the Rocket Richard and the Williams Jennings trophies to Sidney Crosby, Vinny Lecavalier and Niklas Backstrom and Manny Fernandez of Minnesota. So that will be something else for us to all to do together.
We think this should be a fun couple of weeks. It’s good to see all - well, most of you (laughter), and I’m happy to take your questions. Actually, Bill Daly is here for questions and I think Colie should be somewhere. Anybody see Colie? He’s here, too. Among the three of us, hopefully we can answer any question that you pose.
Q. (Unmic’d question regarding Rick Tocchet’s possible reinstatement)?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: You’re asking me to prognosticate. Rick Tocchet pled guilty to a Grade 3 felony. He has yet to be sentenced. I believe that will take place somewhere in the August teens.
We will finally have an opportunity to have Bob Cleary, who has been conducting our investigation, meet with him. So I’m not really in a position to say what’s going to happen until there’s a complete disposition of his case and until our independent investigator has had an opportunity to interview him, finish interviewing some other people, and then present his report.
At that point I’ll be in a position to make a determination in terms of what his status should or should not be.

Q. What’s going to happen with Nashville?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: What’s going to happen with Nashville? We have an application by the club for Craig Leipold to sell the Nashville Predators to Jim Balsillie. That is a process that requires us to do some more due diligence, even though we did some in Pittsburgh, we have more to do.
It will require a three-quarter approval by the Board of Governors in terms of whether or not Mr. Balsillie as an owner and this transaction should be approved.
The Predators have a lease that goes, I think, for another 14 years, give or take. There is a possibility that the lease could terminate in a year if certain things do or don’t happen. But as far as we’re concerned right now, Mr. Balsillie’s request for approval and the transaction related solely to him buying the Nashville Predators subject to whatever lease is in effect, and if, in fact, at some point the lease is terminated and he seeks to relocate the franchise, that is something that would have to be considered under the league’s constitution and bylaws at the time.

Q. Would you be concerned of the perception that it could be a foregone conclusion or a self-fulfilling prophecy that the franchise would be moved?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: That’s why I answered the question the way I did. I’m hoping to dispel the perception. If the attendance mark is satisfied, even if it’s not, if the city cures what would then be the default, this team is not going anywhere.
There is a lease, and sports leagues aren’t in the practice of letting teams violate their leases. I believe Mr. Balsillie understands that and it’s conceivable that this team will be in Nashville for as long as its lease, however long that may be.

Q. But there are significant problems in Nashville, I think you would agree, given the attendance and the efforts that Craig Leipold made. Mr. Balsillie has made it known in the past that he would like to have a team in Canada. Your thoughts on, A, the problems in Nashville, whether they can be corrected, and, B, the potential for that team to move to Canada?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: That’s a terrific question for two reasons. One, the reason the clause that’s in question, the one that says if attendance is at a certain level and then there’s no cure, Craig actually - Leipold actually put in the lease, because he was concerned as to whether or not this particular non-traditional market could support a team long-term.
And we will find out the answer to the question, I suppose, over the next year assuming he gives the appropriate notice which I believe he needs to do by June 19th.
I met with Mr. Balsillie last week. Bill Daly and I both did, and I specifically asked him whether or not he had specific plans or intentions with respect to moving the franchise, and he told me he did not.
And so I think there’s been entirely too much speculation in terms of what comes next.
What’s clear to me from meeting with Mr. Balsillie is that he’s passionate about the game, would like to own a franchise and certainly has the resources to do it.
Beyond that, there have been no promises. There have been no predictions. And I think if anybody believes that this franchise is destined to a particular location, that’s more a matter of speculation.
With respect to a franchise returning to Canada, that’s something that intrigues me. Because with the partnership we have with the players and the revenue sharing, that’s something, while we haven’t studied it, seems to be more likely than it was three, four, five years ago.
I believe there was actually an editorial in today or yesterday’s National Post suggesting if we do return to Canada, we should go back to Winnipeg first because they have a new building and we owe it to them since this is a market that has had a club.
I’m not opining on whether or not that is an opinion that I agree with, but it is an interesting and intriguing thought.

Q. Gary, is this league getting any closer to considering a move to the two-three-two playoff format, maybe having the All Star game count to decide who gets it like baseball does?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Actually, the All Star game counting for home ice has nothing to do with the two-three-two. That’s not something that’s been considered. Two-three-two has been discussed a number of times. And the clubs believe that for competitive reasons, even though it necessitates more traveling, they like it the way it is.
And since I’m not playing the games, I’m happy to go wherever the games are, and if it means a little more travel, if this is what the clubs I think overwhelmingly support in terms of the way they want to maintain the integrity of home-ice advantage.

Q. You said the possibility of returning to Canada intrigues you, do you think it is more likely that that would happen with a franchise relocation or through expansion?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: When I say it intrigues me, it’s something I haven’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about or researching. As with intrigue, it’s sometimes a fanciful notion. But it’s something that if the right circumstances presented themselves and there was an interest in a real and meaningful material way, it’s something that we would have to obviously look at seriously. But beyond that, we haven’t gone to the next step, whatever that might be.

Q. Here in Los Angeles there are two teams in the metropolitan area, and New York has three. Toronto is arguably the largest hockey place in the world maybe outside of Moscow. Do you ever imagine a second team could go into Toronto?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: It’s not something that I have given any thought to. I’m not so sure. Well, I’m not advocating moving any clubs, because I don’t like to do that. And the world we live in now, I’m not sure what our footprint would be if we were starting from scratch on a clean slate. Having said that, we love all our franchises where they are.
We haven’t given any thought to your question. I, frankly, think - and I live in the New York, New Jersey metropolitan area, I think it’s tough for all the clubs to get media attention, particularly when they’re having tough years on the ice. There’s some real downsides to multiple teams in the market.

Q. Gary, declining press at this event. Very few newspapers represented as opposed to a few years ago. Any theories on that and how much does it concern you?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, actually our numbers this year are about what they were last year. So there hasn’t been a decline last year to this year.
But the point you’re making is a good one and a fair one. We covet as much attention as we can get from every possible outlet and source. So what I’m about to say shouldn’t be construed as my attempt to minimize that, because it’s not.
The newspaper industry is in a very challenging period. Editors, particularly sports editors, are looking to cut expenses every way they can.
This was something when the AP sports editors were in to see me, as they come around in April to see all the commissioners when they visit through New York over a couple of days, the way that the newspapers do business and cover all sports is changing dramatically because of the economic constraints.
And the newspaper industry has its challenges. And that’s why you’re seeing some of the decisions made. The good news from our standpoint, and I use that in quotes, and I don’t mean it’s good news, the fact that it’s happening now with all the coverage through other forms of media that’s more instantaneous means that fans aren’t relying as much on newspapers as they did 20 or 30 years ago to get their news.
That’s probably one of the reasons that the newspaper industry is having the problems that it is. We are in changing and challenging times with respect to coverage and how it’s covered. I saw one editor say he wasn’t sending somebody because he didn’t like the geographic matchup. With all due respect, if you’re making your decisions as to how you cover your sports based on geography, I’m not sure that your readers are going to be reading your sports pages that often.
I think what’s most important is what’s taking place, in our case, on the ice, what happens on any playing surface in any sport. And I think newspapers are adjusting to very difficult economic times.
Having said that, I’ll go back to what I first said. I wish everybody were here because watching our game in person, particularly the Final, there’s nothing like it in sports. And it’s great to be a part of.

Q. The length of the season seems to be a bit of topic this time of year. Do you foresee there being any appetite at all among the governors to either start the season earlier at some point or to pare some games off the schedule? From a personal standpoint, do you believe there’s any difference in presenting the Stanley Cup on June 11th or, let’s say, May 20th or 21st?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Two things. Starting the season earlier doesn’t change its length. So that means we would have to start in September. What the clubs tell us is they’d like to start later, because when you have baseball playoffs, the middle of the football season, our teams are telling us they’d like to start later in October and even November.
To start in November we would have to end in July, and I do see a difference in doing that. Late May, early June to me isn’t that big a deal.
We have had some discussions with the Players Association about compressing October, because teams tend to give us fewer dates in October and it picks up in November. Without making November through the end of the regular season any more intense, we could compress October a little bit, maybe pick up a week, maybe ten days, maybe if we’re really lucky two weeks.
But that hasn’t been anything under the circumstances we’ve been able to get the Players Association to sign off on. Our fans like going to our games. That’s why we played in 92 percent of capacity. That’s why we played at 99.5 percent of capacity during the playoffs. If we’re going to play an 82-game schedule, which is, again, something that fans have gravitated to in a big way, you can only do it based on our travel, based on the physicality of our game. You can only do it in a certain window.
And I don’t see any basis to cut the playoffs short. It’s two months. There isn’t much you can do about it. So I think we are where we are.
If you look at some of the other sports, their seasons are getting longer and longer. Did I read recently that baseball now could have the deciding game of the World Series in November? I didn’t know that they were emulating us by becoming a cold-weather sport. That was a joke, okay, don’t get me in trouble with that (laughter).

Q. Gary, you referenced in your answer about Nashville, about nebulous, though, it might be, a possible return to a Canadian city was made possible by a change in the landscape post-lockout. Can you kind of enunciate why that is and what really has changed to make it?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: The combination of a salary cap and revenue sharing. Markets that couldn’t afford to compete now can be more competitive. Instead of having teams with payrolls of 20 million and teams with payrolls at 80 million, we now have a $16 million range within which everybody has to be.
We also have revenue sharing. Some teams can get double-digit millions in revenue sharing in a given year. The combination of those things - we don’t believe that - when I say we, Bill Daly and I in particular - that you have to spend to the cap to be competitive.
There were teams that tried to be competitive at 25 million or 30 million against 80 or 60 or 70 million, and so we don’t think if you’re anywhere in that ($16-million) range how much you spend is really an issue.
So the combination of having a range that shouldn’t make a competitive difference coupled with revenue sharing, again, we haven’t studied it because it isn’t before us.
At the present time we’re not looking at expansion. At the present time we’re not looking at relocation. So from our standpoint, these are more theoretical questions, as I said before, perhaps even intriguing questions.
But they seem to be something, depending on the circumstances, we may have to deal with. We are - as I said, we’ve been getting lots of expressions of interest in expansion. And as I said, while we’re not dealing with expansion as a formal process right now. We’re listening to what people have to say.

Q. Speaking of expansion, and I know you won’t like this one, but what about Europe? There seems to be more and more grounds there for maybe thinking about that in the next 10 years?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: From our standpoint, based on where we’ve been and where we are, we needed to take care of ourselves in North America first. We owed it to our fans here. We owed it to the game here. And that has been our primary focus.
Obviously with a third of our players from outside of North America, some of the best hockey players in the world, there is a tremendous interest in our game on the other side of the Atlantic. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that a third of the visits to NHL.com actually come from outside of North America.
We’re looking at ways of satisfying that interest. As you all know, we’re going to open the regular season with two games between the Ducks and the Kings in London.
I think over time you’ll see us have a greater and greater presence, maybe bring more teams over to start the regular season.
The formality of expanding over there, short-term I think it’s hard logistically in terms of travel, and I think it’s hard logistically because the arena infrastructure, while changing, they don’t have the same level or number of first-class major league arenas that we have here.
That’s something that will change over time and it’s something that we’ll continue to monitor closely.

Q. With regards to Nashville, I’m sure you’re aware it caused quite a stir in Canada, and the possibility of another Canadian team excites a lot of people. In Nashville you have a team that has a beautiful arena, an excellent hockey team, good management, now has a salary cap, now has revenue sharing, can’t get people interested. Haven’t they told you they’re not interested in having an NHL team?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Actually, it’s a good question. But there’s an answer to it which goes something like this: I believe as a percentage of season ticket holders, there are more individuals as opposed to corporate in Nashville than any of our other markets. The economy, the number of head offices, particularly in health care and finance, for that part of the country, has changed dramatically since the team has been there.
And this team’s suffering is due to a lack of corporate support. It’s still an important part of any franchise’s well-being. And unless the corporate community is going to step up, then this team may lose it. They do have a good, strong fan base, particularly for a team in a non-traditional market that’s been there 10 years.
So I wouldn’t suggest that every part of Nashville I wouldn’t suggest has failed the team. I think the corporate community hasn’t stepped up, certainly not the way it did in the first two years when the economics were different.

Q. Scoring. Last year, first year after the lockout, everything was up and things were looking pretty bright. Both now in the regular season and playoffs you’ve seen a significant drop. You would agree it’s significant at least in scoring. Do you plan to do anything to address that to at least get it back to where it was last year?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: The scoring in the regular season was off about three-tenths of a goal a game and the scoring in the playoffs is off about a goal a game. We needn’t quibble whether it’s significant. It is what it is and I certainly wouldn’t argue the point.
Yes, we’re going to look at it with the Competition Committee. We’re going to look at it with the managers and ultimately with the Board. And the first judgment that will have to be made is, is that a significant issue and is it something we need to address?
Interestingly enough, even-strength goals, and I’m certain about this for the regular season, and I believe I’m correct for the playoffs, even-strength goals were actually up. There have been less penalties, not because we’re relaxing the standard, but because everybody’s adjusting to it and so the number of power-play goals, particularly in the regular season, is where the fall-off was in scoring.
Having said that, that doesn’t answer your question. It just puts it into context. It’s something we’ll have to look at. We like the way the game is being played. We think there are lots of scoring chances. We think there’s good flow. We think there’s lots of lead changes, but the question is, does the game, and particularly our fans, need more moments of gratification that only the scoring of a goal can bring them? And that’s something that we’ve got to look at.

Q. Gary, NBC decided to quit a game between Buffalo and Ottawa because it was going into overtime. Will you have to revise the overtime thing or is the game going to stay the way it is, even though the regular season and the playoffs are two different matters?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I don’t want to quibble with you on words. It’s not that they decided to quit the game. It’s that we had an understanding: NBC is obligated to carry all of our games to conclusion, except the two games that are played on the days of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, because when we made our deal with NBC they had prior contractual commitments.
And our alternative would have been to put all four of the games, two last year and two this year, on Versus and not have them on NBC at all.
The judgment we made - and maybe it was the wrong one; we’ll have to look at it over the summer - was we were better off taking the chance with the possibility that maybe none of the games would go into overtime. Three of the four didn’t. The last one over the last two years did. And we wound up having to switch the game to Versus.
Obviously in an ideal world that doesn’t happen. But we understood going in that that was the risk of the decision we were making, and I made the decision that I’d rather have the games - because it wouldn’t have just been the one game; we would have had to take all four games, two this year and two last, and move them all to Versus. At this stage of the season, I wanted to have as much of the games as possible in the broadest possible distribution as possible.
I can’t see him in the light, but if anybody has any additional questions on it, I think Dick Ebersol, the chairman of NBC Sports, may be in the room. If he is, raise your hand. There he is in the back. Dick, you can add anything if you’d like.
DICK EBERSOL: No you’ve said it all. In an ideal set of circumstances, we wouldn’t have the prior arrangement but we’ve been involved with both the Derby and Preakness now for seven or eight years.
And as you and I discussed many times this year going into this situation, we prayed for quadruple overtime on a Saturday night during the Stanley Cup Final, but we hoped it wouldn’t happen on the weekend of the Derby or the Preakness, and we got caught.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: What’s also interesting is, and nobody seemed to have picked up on it, or if they have, they’re ignoring it, the next night we went into overtime. The game ran long Sunday, blew out the local news. What was also interesting about it was NBC not only stayed with the game, but spent about 15 minutes and went back to the arena twice to do interviews and did a complete wrap-up show. Other than those two days, it hasn’t been an issue and their coverage has been terrific.

Q. Gary, why weren’t those games scheduled for night given NBC’s prior commitments in the afternoon?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Because we wanted to try to put the games on NBC as opposed to putting those games on Versus. It would have reduced our NBC presence. And that’s a fair question to ask. That was the judgment we made at the time. And three out of the four games that it was at issue worked out okay.
You can second-guess it. I do myself. And it’s something obviously we’re going to have to think about going forward.

Q. There have been much discussions here about television issues. And you even alluded in your remarks about it’s not perfect and we all hear about that, too. As a grizzled member of the dinosaur print media, I can presume to assume that in the next few days there are going to be stories written about the sign of lack of interest because of the ratings and everything else. Those Nielsen ratings are such in the United States that it’s a sign of lack of interest in hockey. Is there a point at which you just want to step back and just say we are what we are and stop worrying or stop harping on that?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: By the way, I think it’s a good point. We are what we are. And we think we’re pretty darn good. And we like where we are. And this is a business that will do close to $2.4 billion in revenues. We have over 20 million fans six seasons in a row, each year setting an attendance record, come to our regular season. We play to virtually 100 percent of capacity in the playoffs. Our visits to NHL.com are growing dramatically. Nielsen TV ratings is but one metric.
It doesn’t define us. And, by the way, the research also says that we probably have somewhere around 50 million fans. Some avid, some casual.
What it tells you is people who follow this game who are passionate about the game don’t watch it on TV in the United States as much as we’d all like. But you know what, there are probably two or three other sports that do it better than we do, and you know what, there are a bunch of niche sports that don’t even come close.
We don’t have to apologize to anybody for what we are. We think we can continue to grow across all media platforms. We believe that we will. But I think it’s a little unfair to define us based on traditional television ratings.
We’ve had a difficult history on television, which included 20 years of not being on national television. We have been trying to swim upstream against the declining current for the last 15 years.
Listen, my first Stanley Cup Final in 1993, we were on cable, and it was blacked out in the local markets. So we’ve come a long way in the last 14 years on television. For people who want to knock us on the basis of that, go ahead. But we’re not going to apologize for what we are.
We like what we are. And we think we’re special. And this game and the players associated with it are the best in all of sports and we’ll find our own level over time. But this isn’t a 60-minute game. This game gets played year after year, generation to generation. We’ve been around since 1917. We’ll be around for hundreds of years going forward. I’m not concerned. In fact, I’m optimistic about the future. But thanks for asking.

Q. In the local and in the national media, leading up to your showcase event, there have been a number of stories about how there’s no buzz in Southern California. There’s no excitement. There are a lot of people who couldn’t name five members of the Anaheim Ducks. Does this concern you? And are there things that the league office can do to ensure that Southern California is a healthy hockey market and that for your showcase event there are people who know that it’s going on?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, it’s a fair question. And let me try and answer it as follows. First of all, when this building is full tonight, it will be rocking and as loud as any building in the league. Two, in the time that the Ducks have been in the league since 1993, I believe participation in organized hockey is up something like 660 percent, in terms of people playing.
The number of rinks is double, and I think there are four more rinks being planned to be built in the next four years. This team has been here, Anaheim, since 1993. It’s still a market in its infancy, Southern California, Orange County, as opposed to LA where obviously the Kings have been longer. People gravitate to their sports over time. Sports are passed on from generation to generation in a place defined by freeways and urban sprawl.
I’m not exactly sure where you hold the parade or where the downtown buzz is. That’s a unique challenge in a market like Orange County. Having said that, we love being here. We think the fans we have here are great. And again we won’t apologize. I know I’m repeating in some respect the catch phrase I used in my other answer. We won’t apologize for being here. It’s great to be here, and people who are focused on us and focused on this event will see something very entertaining, and we’ll have a good time.

Q. Gary, you mentioned 14 years. Seems like only yesterday at the Breakers that this was all happening?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: That was 15 years. And commissioner in dog years, that’s about 85 years.

Q. Are you in a position where you’re going to have to negotiate soon an extension of your services and do you want to keep going indefinitely? Have you thought of how long you want to continue this?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Generally I don’t negotiate with the Board because I love what I’m doing and they tell me the terms upon which I’ll continue to do it.
Somehow this became a cause celebre after the All Star game. I have a contract that goes for many, many more years. I think it would take me at least to my 60th birthday. For those who don’t know, my 55th birthday is next Saturday. You don’t all have to sing Happy Birthday at once.
I love what I do. I find it both challenging and emotionally rewarding. And some days a little too rewarding from that standpoint. If I ever lose the passion or the owners ever lose their passion for me, then I’ll go do something else.
But this is my life professionally, and if you ask my family, personally as well because it dominates everything I do and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Q. Gary, just getting back to the Preakness thing again. Talking to people in Buffalo, they said that really there wasn’t a scheduling issue for them, they could have play the game a little earlier. Could you clarify why you guys didn’t try to push that to 1:00? Was it a consideration of West Coast viewers, or where that was at? Because that seems like the most logical solution there, to just play a little earlier.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: In hindsight there may be lots of things we could do. You have to remember that we made the NBC deal before we made the Versus deal. NBC deal was made before the work stoppage. The Versus deal was made after the work stoppage. And so we were looking to get as much exposure as we could, because we didn’t know what our national cable arrangements were going to be.
We’re going to look at everything, starting earlier, switching the East and West to see if there are ways we can do it. The problem is you can’t play on the West on Saturday and start early because we won’t start a game before noon. Our schedule, particularly in the playoffs - and if you remember, we re-seed after every round. It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult as we look at building availabilities and the like.
We’re obviously going to have to see if we can do what we did better. Having said that, we took a gamble and three out of the four days we gambled on it it was fine and the fourth one didn’t work out.
But, again, let’s not make too big a deal out of this. Overtime was on Versus. If we didn’t do this, the entire game would have been on Versus. With respect to people who got to see the game on NBC, they were in a position, perhaps worse, because NBC has broader distribution than Versus, more people got to see the game than might otherwise have been. And that was the overriding consideration.
Q. Gary, do you have the exact number for the salary cap for next season?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Not yet, but you can do a projection as follows. The cap is linked to revenues. Revenues this year will grow between 6.5 and 7 percent. So you can do your own math and expect the growth at least in that range.

Q. I can’t do math, so what would that be (laughter)?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Somewhere in the $48 to $49 million range. And that assumes we don’t put in a kicker and project additional revenue growth next year as well. But that’s the vicinity of where we think we’ll be.

Q. You talked about the positive of NBC the next day coming back even after the overtime with the pregame show they did. Is there a concern that when you went to Versus, part of it was how they would embrace the sport and kind of centerpiece it on their network, and yet when there would be overtime games in these playoffs, right away they’re cutting away without really a post-game show, going to repeats of bull riding and whatnot.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: For the most part, their coverage has been long detailed and outstanding. When you go and look at the first two rounds of the playoffs, there’s no question in terms of our importance to them and what they were doing, pre-game shows, intermissions about us, post-game shows.
When have you ever seen on a national broadcast of our games the coaches’ press conferences? I mean Versus, night in and night out, does an outstanding job of staying with us.
On any particular night they may have a reason they have to break away and do something when there’s a particularly long game. But I think if you judge Versus on the full body of their work, they get extremely high grades and their commitment to the NHL and covering our games.

Q. In your conversations with Mr. Balsillie and Mr. Leipold, have they told you whether they will invoke the clause in the lease deal that allows them to, you know what I’m saying?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Yes. It’s not Mr. Balsillie’s to invoke because he doesn’t own the franchise. Mr. Leipold has told me, and if he hasn’t made it public, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to divulge it. If he has made it public, you know the answer to the question.

Q. When you say you’re intrigued by more teams in Canada, can you elaborate? Would it be taking it out of context to say, therefore, you would like to see more teams in Canada?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Intrigued is in the sense that I don’t like franchise relocation. I think my view on that and my record on that has been clear to everybody in this room for as long as I’ve been doing this job.
So, for example, when we had the chance to go back to Minnesota, we did. Because it made sense. The right ownership, the right building situation, the market was strong and vibrant.
We haven’t studied Quebec City or Winnipeg or anywhere else in Canada. But the notion that if it could work to put a franchise back in a place where one was lost feels good, provided we don’t wind up in a situation where we’ve created a prescription for another failing franchise.
So intrigued is: it’s obviously something that I’ve thought about in terms of trying to make right something that at one point in our history went wrong.
Now, again, Quebec City and Winnipeg we wound up leaving because there was no new building, there was no prospect of a new building and there wasn’t anybody there who wanted to own the teams there at the time.

Q. You’re saying Quebec City and Winnipeg, what about anywhere else?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I was talking about the cities we left. That’s where the intriguing notion comes from.

Q. But not anywhere else?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I haven’t given thought to anywhere else.

Q. Gary, one of the things during the labor situation was I remember you saying that with the new economic system, teams would be able to charge less for ticket prices. I don’t think we’re seeing that. Getting a lot of emails from people, from Detroit and other playoffs, people here in Anaheim buying playoff tickets saying they couldn’t afford it. The amounts of money they were being asked to advance were crazy. We didn’t see any sell-outs in Detroit at any home games this spring. Where are the lower ticket prices?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Actually that’s a fair question, but a little off the mark. Detroit is having its own economic problems. If you see what’s happening with the other teams in Detroit, they’re either empty seats or heavy discounting. If you go back and check our ticket prices from four years ago and you look at our ticket prices now, on average, we’re actually a tad below where we were four years ago.
In that same period of time, the other sport ticket prices on average have gone up between 15 and 25 percent. What I said around the time of the work stoppage was the pressure on ticket prices would ameliorate somewhat. There wouldn’t be as much inflationary pressure. I think we’ve been true to that considering the fact that our prices are about, if not a little bit less than, they were four years ago.
Nothing in this world holds price to what it was three, four, five years ago. Just look at gasoline prices. But with respect to our ticket prices, relative, particularly to the other sports, we have not been on an inflationary track.

Q. During the lockout there was a lot of talk about the cap and would teams be drawn to the cap. I think you even made a prediction that you thought that the teams would be drawn to the cap. Even though you built in protection, is there still concern that teams are overspending, particularly now when you have franchises suggesting that even though there’s an increase in revenue it’s really with ticket increases in select markets and doesn’t represent national revenue?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: That’s an interesting question for what some of you may consider to be a bizarre reason when I tell you it. Teams tend to gravitate towards the cap. It tends to act as a magnet. For the life of me, I don’t understand why it does, because you should be able to be competitive anywhere in the range.
How much you’re spending should be a function of what the makeup is of your team: how many young players you have, how many old players, how many superstars. It’s the mix you put together that should determine in the range you are. Teams tell me on a regular basis, they say we all go to the cap because it’s your fault, the media, because you write bad things about teams who don’t spend to the cap. My tongue’s firmly in my cheek, but the point I’m trying to make is there seems to be this pressure that teams feel to go to the cap, and I think the pressure is more illusory than not.
If you look at teams last year that had success, not all of them were cap teams at the time; Carolina and Edmonton but two examples. But I think as the cap goes up, we’ll start to see it stretching a little bit in terms of the number of teams that go there.
And so I don’t think you’ll see every team at the cap. I think that’s fine. And I think when you judge this, not in training camp but the stretch run down the regular season and into the playoffs, the difference of two, four, eight or even ten million dollars isn’t going to define who wins the Cup.
On that note I look forward to seeing you all over the next couple of weeks. Enjoy the Final. It should be fun. Thanks for coming.

Filed in: NHL Talk, | KK Hockey | Permalink


Be the first to comment.

Add a Comment

Please limit embedded image or media size to 575 pixels wide.

Add your own avatar by joining Kukla's Korner, or logging in and uploading one in your member control panel.

Captchas bug you? Join KK or log in and you won't have to bother.


Notify me of follow-up comments?


Most Recent Blog Posts

About Kukla's Korner Hockey

Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

Email Paul anytime at pk@kuklaskorner.com