Friday, 7 September 2012

Is Gary Bettman to blame for the NHL's probable lockout?

I don't really hold it against Gary Bettman that he didn't foresee everything and that he didn't negotiate a new CBA that would be airtight for the owners in perpetuity.  The 2005 deal was a first try at one that would include a salary cap.  Lots of modeling and forecasting was probably done, and it looked like the deal would be a big win for the owners.

Such variables like the growth of the Canadian dollar were hard to predict, and allow for.  If both sides had seen this coming, they would have been ready for the explosion revenues, and the way it would have dragged up the salary floor.

Big technological changes such as the explosion of social media, along with the advent of the PVR and ability to download regular TV programs are all factors that made sports programming the only 'must see' content on TV, and precipitated a growth in interest and the amount leagues could charge.

So Gary Bettman might have been been a visionary who saw these conditions changing in the near-future and allowed for it, and would have received kudos if he did, but instead, he tends to look backward.  He chases a NFL-type national TV contract, problematic for a sport that has a strong hold in the northeast but tenuous grasp of fans in the NASCAR belt.  He claims to want to grow the game and capture new fans, but has isolated the League by hitching his wagon to the fledgling NBC Sports Network with an exclusive contract, instead of negotiating and delivering some type of an agreement that included ESPN and would ensure an NHL presence on SportsCentre and talk shows like PTI among others.  By doing so he was penny-wise and pound-foolish, cloistering the NHL in a TV ghetto instead of being in the most popular neighbourhood, the channel watched by most fans.  He chose to be the only league that isn't on ESPN.  He chose to sign the exclusive deal with the network that is owned by the owner of the Flyers and open himself up to accusations of conflict of interest.

If we allow him a mulligan and agree he can't be faulted for not having a crystal ball, he still can be dinged for is his inconsistency, his lack of probity and his dealings with the fans and the media.

He fails in the area of saying one thing and doing the other.  He called the players his partners and promised to work with them to grown the game for the benefit of all when he signed the last CBA.  In fact he has continued to be a divisive force in player relations, in his waffling efforts on player safety, for example, and his obstinacy in keeping inept, corrupt buffoons such as Colin Campbell on his payroll.  Any competent President/CEO would have relieved him of his duties long ago.  He treats the players with contempt, acting like a tyrant and bully in this negotiation process.  He has to wear that.  He doesn't skate free by virtue of his being a tough negotiator.

By being the face of the owners, their representative to the fans, and treating the latter in a cavalier fashion, subjecting them to a probable second lockout in seven years and third during his tenure, and by high-handedly dismissing the players' suggestion that they continue play under the strictures of the current CBA, he loses any hope of appearing to be a statesman and a force for the greater good.  He fully deserves the opprobrium leveled in his direction by the fans and the media who cover hockey and who can easily through his charades and shell-game.  To excuse his intellectual dishonesty and his treatment of his fans, the 'stakeholders' who ultimately own hockey and his league, so poorly, is to act as agents of appeasement while we are in fact witnessing a great injustice and being the victims of another great heist.

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