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Why Is NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman So Polarizing for Fans?

May 27th, 2024

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has been in the driver’s seat through three decades of the league’s ups and downs. While there have been numerous positive changes within the NHL over that time period—most notably, the increase in team valuations—Bettman has also been at the NHL’s helm during multiple controversies, from three lockouts to the Chicago Blackhawks’ sexual abuse scandal to the league’s stance on CTE and concussions.

Fans have often shown their displeasure with Bettman, and, like many sports league commissioners, he is regularly booed when he appears publicly, such as when presenting the Stanley Cup trophy or at the NHL draft. However, at last year’s draft, Bettman leaned into the hate, telling the crowd, “You can do better than that.”

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How long has Gary Bettman been NHL commissioner?

Gary Bettman, 71, has been the NHL’s commissioner since Feb. 1, 1993, making him the longest-serving commissioner in any North American pro sports league. He is also the league’s first official commissioner; before the commissioner title was established, the league’s highest-ranking executive position was the NHL president, a role which five people have held.

Before he became the commissioner, Bettman was a senior vice president and general counsel at the NBA, where he worked closely with David Stern, the NBA’s commissioner for 30 years, from 1984-2014.

During Bettman’s first full season in 1993-94, the league had 26 teams. It has since expanded to 33 teams (one of which is inactive) and is preparing to welcome a franchise to Utah.

What is Gary Bettman’s salary?

There haven’t been any publicly reported details on his salary since the 2013-14 season.

Did Gary Bettman play in the NHL?

No, Bettman never played in the NHL. However, in 2016, Bettman told Sportsnet that he can, in fact, skate. As for organized sports, Sportsnet reported he was on his high school soccer team, and he told a local New Jersey publication he played intramural hockey in college. He frequently watched the Cornell Big Red hockey team as a student at the university.

Why has Bettman been so polarizing?

Under Bettman, the league’s owners have locked out the players three times. The first took place in 1994-95, one season after he took the job, which led to a shortened 48-game season. The second lockout, and perhaps the most damaging, occurred in 2004-05 when Bettman and the owners canceled the entire season. The latest in 2012-13, which lasted a little over three months, reduced another season from 82 to 48 games.

Money was at the root of each work stoppage. The owners wanted to institute a salary cap but ultimately failed during the 1994-95 lockout. Leading up to the second lockout, the league took the position it was losing millions while player salaries ballooned.

The NHL’s stance on CTE and concussions has also raised red flags about Bettman. He told NPR in 2023 that he does not see a link between playing hockey in the NHL and the brain disease, unlike the NFL, which has acknowledged a link between head trauma and CTE. “I don’t believe there has been any documented study that suggests that elements of our game result in CTE,” Bettman told NPR.

The NHL’s handling of the sexual abuse scandal involving the Chicago Blackhawks in 2021 drew criticism for its slow response in handling the case. Bettman defended the league’s process and the punishment it handed down—a $2 million fine to Chicago for “inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response” to the situation.

“This response should send a clear message to all NHL clubs and all NHL personnel that inappropriate acts must be addressed in a timely fashion,” Bettman said in a statement in October 2021.

Still, despite the shots fired his way, the commissioner does not seem to bat an eye.

After three decades of Bettman, what’s the state of today’s NHL?

The NHL has transformed in multiple facets under Bettman’s time as commissioner.

Expansion has been a major element during Bettman’s time in the league. Most recently, the NHL added teams in Las Vegas and Seattle; the Golden Knights have reached the Stanley Cup Finals twice, winning in 2022-23. The league also reestablished a franchise in Winnipeg in 2011, and the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado and became the Avalanche, who won Stanley Cups in 1996, 2001 and 2022.

Bettman’s handling of the Arizona Coyotes’ stadium ordeal has been a constant thorn for the league. Even with Bettman’s support, the Coyotes could not get a new arena. Arizona played at Arizona State University’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena for two seasons after the city of Glendale ended its lease with the franchise following the 2021-22 season. This spring, the NHL facilitated the team’s move to Utah.

As Bettman’s tenure went on, NHL team valuations continued to increase. In 2004 (a lockout season), the average NHL team was worth $163 million, according to Forbes. Nearly two decades later, Sportico reported the average NHL team was valued at $1.31 billion.

ESPN came back into the broadcasting mix to air NHL games beginning in the 2021-22 seasons as part of a seven-year deal, but the network’s history with the sport is complex. After the 2004-05 lockout season, ESPN declined to exercise its $60 million option to air games, ending the 21-year relationship it had with the league, according to The New York Times. Comcast-owned OLN, which later became Versus, then NBC Sports Network, paid $65 million for the 2005-06 season. At the time, OLN had 64 million subscribers compared to ESPN’s 90 million.

With ESPN and TNT Sports locked in as broadcast partners, the NHL saw an eight-year ratings high and record attendance heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The league saw an average of 504,000 viewers per game, and arenas operated at 97% capacity.

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This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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