The embroiled NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, recently spoke to Winnipeg free press (read the whole interview here) and what my professional head reads as a “hey, look at me, I AM a good guy” type of interview, there were a couple of bits that jumped out at me.
In the interview Bettman says “It’s horrific for the simple reason that we as a business are in business to put on our game and engage with our fans and to grow our game. This entire process is absolutely inconsistent with that. Having said that, any sports league needs a system that works and makes the game and the business of the game healthy”, when he was asked about if he was happy with the lockout. My question still is and will remain, why weren’t the CBA negotiations started earlier? The NHL cancelled its European premiere games well in advance “due to a threat of work stoppage in the NHL” and it also worked out a “lockout clause” to its Winter Classic contract, all the while maintaining that there was enough time to salvage the 2012-2013 season. Yeah, that all worked out really well.
Additionally, when asked about the state of the negotiations, Bettman remarks that “The lines of communication are open. They know they have our best offer, which is a 50-50 sharing and the other issues that we’ve proposed to them. They proposed 17 issues last week and we agreed to 13 of them. We know where the negotiations led to, they know they have our best offer.” The way I’m reading that comment, and in particular the mention “they know they have our best offer” twice in that comment means that the NHL is unlikely to give on the offer they have tabled. While there aren’t any public details of what the NHLPA has offered in return, it looks like it could be that the NHL is sticking to its guns about the contract it has tabled. The NHLPA, not happy with clauses in the offer is trying to negotiate it, but as it is the NHL’s “best offer”, it is unlikely that the NHL is willing to move on it.
At least Bettman acknowledges the fact that the lockout is damaging the reputation of the game and no doubt Bettman has received a ton of shtick from fans, players, business partners and so on. Bettman said in the interview that “Obviously what we’re going through is damaging. We can estimate the dollars and cents of what’s been cancelled and what we’re hearing from business partners and what it’s doing to their businesses. But we won’t know the long-term and short-term effects until this is over. But it’s not good.”
Damn right it’s not good. More and more fans that I talk to, the common consensus among fans is that who cares. The league – and the players for that matter – is losing the fans’ interest. There have been reports that Molson is looking to recoup lost money from the league. Other business partners can’t be too pleased either as they have contracts with the league that would guarantee exposure to their brands, but with no games on TV or arenas open to NHL hockey, the exposure is limited.
Bettman also fired at the NHLPA saying that “The union has shown an unwillingness to negotiate,” while he said that the two parties should hold a two week break. However, when pressed on the matter by Winnipeg Free Press, Bettman said “What happened is that conversation (phone conversation with Donald Fehr) was clearly misportrayed and mischaracterized. Don called me on Tuesday to have a conversation. It wasn’t a negotiation. It was nothing more than a simple conversation. In the course of that conversation he said he didn’t know what to do or how to proceed. I said maybe we should take a little downtime, a couple of weeks, especially since we had just five sessions in six days and nothing was produced. In light of that fact he didn’t know how to proceed, I said that as a suggestion. He gave it a long pause and then said, ‘I don’t think so.’ I said OK”.
A few days ago, Detroit Red Wings Defence man Ian White called Gary Bettman an idiot. Hilariously, the Winnipeg Free Press asked Bettman how he felt about the players. Whilst pointing out that he does serve the owners, Bettman went on to say that he “loves the players”, which is quite ironic, given that he has effectively locked them out and made some of them partly unemployed. Also Kris Versteeg of the Florida Panthers called Bettman and Bill Daly ‘cancers that have been looting this game for too long’
Let’s face facts, if you had to divide yourself into camps of Bettman lovers or haters, I would probably reside in the latter, but the fact is that Gary Bettman is a business man and to a lesser or greater extent he serves the owners first and everyone else after that. What Bettman has shown is that he is a shrewd negotiator and ensuring that he drives his key stakeholders’ business interests. While his job is twofold in that he also has to serve the players as well. Judging by the players’ recent comments though the players might not love Bettman and co, despite how much he says he loves the players, I doubt very few of them will be sending him a Christmas card this year.
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