Gary Bettman’s Mixed Bag

It isn’t often that I sympathize with Gary Bettman. Much of the jeers and boos he receives are well earned, and his tendency to spin news and issues to the point of insanity wear thin on those who are subjected to his interviews and press conferences. I’m not his biggest fan, but he’s the guy with the job, and I respect the job.

Today, though, I do have to say, he did get something right that the pundits immediately decried. Via Kukla’s Korner (with regards to the hundreds of tweets I saw the statement from as well):

Gary Bettman made a statement today at the World Hockey Summit in regards to how hockey fans feel about NHL participation in the Olympics.

via Scott Burnside tweet,

Bettman says fans’ response to NHL participation in Olympics is a “mixed bag”. Not sure we buy that.

(double blockquote across the sky!)

I would like to be one of the few that says, yes, for me, the Olympics are a mixed bag. And frankly, I would be happy not having the NHL in the Games.

We like to bask in the afterglow of something as fun, successful, and glorious as these last Olympic Games turned out to be for fans in North America. And since the North American fan is the one with the loudest voice, as well as the money and support that keeps the NHL going, they are going to get the most attention. Had the gold medal game not been between Canada and the USA, there may be a different tune being sung by some.

And while the Olympics are a great stage for some of the best players – eventually, after a few games, when they start playing like a team – there is the other alternative, the World Cup.

At the moment, the World Cup is dead, but just like killing off a popular comic book character, the dead tend to rise again. There is nothing to stop the NHL from resurrecting it, aside from a lot of hard work to make it happen. But considering the revenues that could be had – and everything these days are about the revenue – the NHL should give it some serious thought.

The only disadvantage that the World Cup has is that it isn’t the Olympics. It isn’t as sexy as the Olympics. It has a cheesy trophy, and is virtually meaningless. Meaning, though, is built. It’s built though the games, though the fans, and the players themselves.

Some of the advantages of the World Cup:

  • You can play it in the off season. No compressed NHL schedule.
  • Real training camp. Players can learn to play with one another, instead of just jamming their skill set together.
  • No break. If you aren’t playing in the Olympic break, you are either healing, or restarting your season, and maybe loosing momentum.
  • You can play on the world stage. Games can be held anywhere.
  • Revenue goes to the NHL.
  • No jumping through the IOC hoops and abiding by their stupid rules that make no sense to professional athletes.
  • You don’t have to wait for curling to finish to watch some hockey (imagine that, there are other sports)

There are disadvantages to not playing in the Olympics, certainly, but do they outweigh holding the World Cup? I’m not really sure. My feeling is no, not if you have a viable alternative.
The problem with Gary Bettman in all of this is that he has a tendency to speak too often for the fans. The knee-jerk reaction is that he is wrong as soon as he opens his mouth. I don’t feel he represents me as a fan, nor should he. His job is to represent the NHL, and the owners. But overall, the NHL probably has more data on the fans and their needs and wants than the rest of us. They don’t always apply it in a smart way, and they tend to spin that data in ways that fit their needs and wants, but the data is there. We, the bloggers and the tweeters, feel we have a handle on the metrics of the hockey fan, but we only have a certain demographic, those that are online, and just like the Commissioner, we promote the ones that tend to support our individual point of view.
Gary Bettman doesn’t represent me, but neither do the thousands of online pundits that feel like they have inside knowledge of what the fans want. For once, I have to side with Bettman on this one. It is a mixed bag, and there are many points of view. Just ask the 2005-06 Ottawa Senators. I won’t try to speak for them, though You’ll just have to ask.

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