McCowan has said it a few times, that he has heard rumblings of the end of Les Commish’s tenure at the helm of the NHL and now one of his co-hosts is echoing the same thoughts yet this time in writing:
“It is clear now that Gary Bettman has entered into similar territory during what must be late stages of his tenure as commissioner of the NHL.”
Them’s fighting words..
The similar territory that Brunt writes about is the road travelled by former CFL commish Lary Smith. The argument is that with Rome burning around Smith, he took to center stage and declared for all to hear that there were no real issues with his league at that time.
“It was absurd, but the point was, Smith couldn’t say anything else. The task of selling Canadian football to uncaring Americans was his defining mission. During a period of absolute desperation for the league, his employers — the CFL’s private owners and the custodians of its community-owned teams — entrusted him with that unenviable, bordering-on-impossible task because they had no alternate survival strategy. The plan failed, and Smith failed, but to admit that would be like admitting one of your own children hadn’t turned out quite the way you hoped. Smith couldn’t repudiate everything he stood for in the job, so instead he took his lumps at the microphone, all but begging to be ridiculed.”
So now, with the economy in the toilet and US teams experiencing varrying degree of difficulty Bettman is out there telling the world that all is well.
“This week, Bettman appeared at a sports-management conference in Toronto, trumpeting attendance figures that don’t differentiate between the paid, the unpaid, and the discounted, claiming the NHL had enjoyed a record October while the rest of the global economy was imploding, and stating categorically that all of his league’s 30 franchises are “healthy.”
As Stephen wrote about Smith, what else is he supposed to say? He championed a lockout to bring in a day economically, and to admit now that there are difficulties wouldn’t look very good.
“Objectively, there’s no shame in the fact the NHL is struggling, especially in non-traditional markets. It happens. Every other sports league has had its issues.But Bettman is incapable of stating the simple truth — we’ve got issues in big-league hockey, nasty ones, just like they have in other sports, and the recession/depression is only going to make them worse — because, like Smith, his entire term as commissioner has been defined by a single grand, flawed scheme.”
Once again them fighting words… One does have to wonder however, how much of this has been at the direction of the owners, and how much at Bettman’s own doing.
“Hockey never really took root in southern climes. The Coyotes, Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers, Florida Panthers (and that’s not the end of the list …) haven’t been much more successful than the CFL’s Sacramento Gold Miners were in selling the locals on what is, by definition, a foreign game. Those weaklings certainly aren’t “healthy,” and sooner or later will face a painful day of reckoning. But that will be for the next commissioner to explain, acknowledging past mistakes, redrafting the NHL’s business plan, playing to its historic strengths and charting a new course. The current captain can’t steer anywhere but full speed, straight ahead, icebergs be damned.”
So let’s recap. The economy is in bad shape. People are cutting back because they are getting laid off or are fearful of getting laid off. Corporations aren’t spending money like the did. Franchises aren’t healthy and to top it all off, the NHLPA may reopen the CBA. As the old saying goes, “aside from that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?” Certainly interesting times in the sports business arena….
You can read Brunt here