Would the NHL ever look to eliminate fighting? Are ads coming to NHL sweaters? And what of expansion, Las Vegas and the Olympics?
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke to those issues and more in a recent interview with the Canadian Press.
CP: You’ve mentioned the sanctity of jerseys in the NHL and not wanting to taint them with sponsorship. Is it a discussion you think you’ll have at some point down the line?
Bettman: It’s far, far, far from front-burner. Doing jersey advertising for the World Cup is not in the same universe as putting advertising on NHL sweaters.
CP: We’ve seen the NBA take that step. If one league takes it do you think it just becomes a matter of time?
Bettman: I’ve always said, you’re going to have to drag us kicking and screaming. We won’t be first. Obviously the NBA went first. And it would take a huge incentive for us to even consider it.
CP: What will make the World Cup a success to say "This is good, let’s keep it going?"
Bettman: I think, based on all preliminary indications, this is going to be a huge success when you look at sponsor activation, you look at the use of technology, you look at ticket sales. We’ll evaluate what went really well, what we can do better and then we’ll decide how to proceed from there.
CP: Would it be something that moves from city to city to city?
CP: Does the success of the World Cup change the stance toward the Olympics, making it maybe less imperative that you go?
Bettman: We haven’t viewed it in those terms. I think the two decisions are independent.
CP: Have you been surprised by how much Senator Blumenthal’s attacks (regarding the NHL’s stance on the links between concussions and CTE) have gained traction?
Bettman: It hasn’t gained any traction. In fact, we haven’t heard from very many people about it all.
CP: Are you surprised that he continues to pepper you?
Bettman: I’m not going to comment on that. Obviously the Senator has his opinions and we have ours.
CP: From your letter in response to the Senator, the way I understood your point —
Bettman: Have you read the letter?
CP: I read your letter thoroughly.
CP: The way I understood your point of view was that until the research is actually definitive you’re not going to make leaps. Is that fair?
Bettman: First of all, I’m not going to have a public debate about this. But medical and scientific decisions should be made by scientists and physicians.
CP: So do you think it’s wrong when he says that you’ve been dismissive?
Bettman: If you’ve read the letter, you could hardly suggest that a 23-page, single-spaced letter is dismissive.
CP: Fighting is considerably down. Is there a point where you say this isn’t necessary in our game anymore?
Bettman: The issue of how the game is played is something that’s constantly being reviewed internally with the Players’ Association, with the general managers, and it’s something that we continue to monitor on a daily basis.
CP: Is that something you’d need the PA to sign off on if you take that step?
Bettman: Rule changes typically involve the Players’ Association’s consent.
CP: Why was it important for you to be first in Vegas?
Bettman: Who said it was important for us to be first in Vegas? …. We went to Vegas because there was an application (and) when you looked at the market, you looked at the ownership, you looked at the arena and you looked at the potential impact on the league, it was a positive. This wasn’t a race. In fact, nobody else was talking about going there until we decided to go.
CP: Do you see European expansion as something the NHL ever looks at?
Bettman: It’s not something in the immediate future for a whole host of logistical issues, whether it’s travel, whether it’s the state of arenas in Europe or the fact that there are professional leagues there who wouldn’t necessarily view our coming over as something that’s positive for the game from their standpoint. It’s a very complicated issue and it’s not something we’re focused on right now.
CP: Winter Classic ratings have dropped a little bit. Do you worry that the outdoor games have maybe been over-saturated?
Bettman: The ratings sometimes are a function of market and sometimes it’s a function of the competitiveness of the game. And (it’s) not (over-saturated) at all. We’ve had what, 17 games (and) over a million people have attended … From a TV standpoint, as we do more perhaps it’s not as unique. But the fact is when you go to one of these in person it is a huge deal and our cities that we play in, our fans and our teams can’t get enough of them.