Who does Bettman represent, besides himself?

Response to Larry Brooks: Gary Bettman is an Advocate, Nothing More. – Surly and Scribe

Gary Bettman is an advocate. In these negotiations, he serves that role for the owners. Like a lawyer, he doesn’t get the first or last call. If the owners told him tomorrow that they want to keep everything as is, he would convey that offer and that may be the end of the CBA negotiations. To blame Gary Bettman for the NHL owners’ insulting and absurd offer is to blame me for my client’s conduct.

[…] One could […] argue that [Bettman’s] opinion influences the owners and he is driving this ship. Perhaps. But when I see 30 very rich men and a handful of those within said 30 who have more fuck you money than they can count, I begin to doubt if little old Bettman calls the shots.

If it turns out to be true that the real battle in this CBA negotiation is not between the owners and the players, but between the big owners and the small owners, then there’s the additional question of who exactly Bettman is representing. Now that I think about it, this might even be the question. The league in its current incarnation, the post-Gretzky expansion into new markets, is entirely Bettman’s vision. (Or that’s what they say, those media types, right?)

It’s possible, of course, that the owners as a whole are just greedy. But let’s say the real problem is that these failing small market or otherwise just badly-run teams that Bettman has spent so much time trying to prop up (e.g. Phoenix, Tampa, Dallas, New Jersey) have entirely different needs than the non-failing teams. Bettman predates numerous owners. Bettman has veto power over new owners. Bettman controls where new franchises can or cannot go and where or if current troubled ones can relocate. I don’t think any owners have a greater stake than Bettman in whether this particular vision of the league works or not. Sure, they want the league to be successful, especially in so far as it benefits their own particular teams. But I don’t think, for example, the Rangers care much whether Phoenix (the Coyotes, not the city) disappears from the face of the earth. That matters to Bettman all by his little own self. And if the small market teams are in real trouble (which they seem to be), then it’s Bettman who has a stake in keeping everything afloat.

Which he can’t do without the cooperation of the big market teams.

And he won’t have their cooperation if they are expected to foot the bill for the small market teams.

So the only way to please the small markets (give us money) and the big markets (don’t take our money) is to get the players to pay for it.

I guess I could have saved some space here and just said — back to Bobby’s post — it’s true that Bettman and the owners are not synonymous; but it’s also true that the owners are not synonymous with each other.

And while I’m thinking about it, it’s also true that Bettman has an interest in preventing even the story of “owners  vs. other owners” getting into the news cycle. Because that, in and of itself, makes him look bad. Bobby’s point is, in part, that Bettman isn’t King. But he’s not just an advocate, either, since nobody cares more about the Bettman Legacy than Bettman himself.


  3 comments for “Who does Bettman represent, besides himself?

  1. variable
    August 15, 2012 at 11:56 PM

    it’s not looking good right now…bettman’s comments yesterday were obvious that he wasn’t taking the nhlpa offer seriously and today’s announcement quickly confirms that….bettman doesn’t mind looking bad, because he often comes across arrogant and patronizing even when times are good…and fans will boo him as long as he dares to stand behind a dais anyway, so he hasn’t minded before…and i’m guessing finishing first in a public popularity contest has never been a priority of his…..

    “So the only way to please the small markets (give us money) and the big markets (don’t take our money) is to get the players to pay for it.”

    that’s exactly what it’s looking like…the only leverage the nhlpa can muster from this situation is if those smaller market teams start to get impatient, (similar to the NBA lockout) and convince the larger markets to compromise – fat chance, of course….

    actually, bettman probably has as much job security as any other north american sports commissioner, possibly even more….even if he risks a fourth lockout in the last 20 years, as long as he continues to get the larger markets and sponsors what they want and increases television revenue like he has, he will be commissioner as long as he wants…

    among the other interesting changes that the owners are asking for is the lengthening of time a player endures in order to become a ufa….they want to switch it from it’s current 7 years of service to 10 years…further revenue sharing cuts than the original nhl proposal…and then there’s the luxury tax issue…and player safety issues….and then escrow…then the reconstruction of entry-level salaries, contract commitments and rfa player rights and team compensation….

    all this to be accomplished within a month when bettman says “we are not on the same page”, while fehr says they presented almost their whole proposal….that little nugget got lost in fehr’s, and the players, preemptive optimism to suggest that they are the ones on the side of the angels and that they are doing everything possible to make a deal work…so much for full disclosure, huh?….

    too bad curt flood has passed away….and maybe that’s what the nhlpa needs besides fehr’s cockeyed, yet appreciated, optimism and/or bettman’s proctor-like explanations and defensive posture – a player, or even an owner, to step up and get behind a logical solution, exposing the top-level owners greed and their attempts to monopolize free agency and revenue sharing…

    the truth is that the league would be better off with 26 teams and a 70 to 74 game season…bettman’s crime, if you will, was to keep poorer markets alive despite all the signals that contraction needed to be done…of course, bettman is an alpha commissioner and it would probably take the greek gods of Ares and Athena for him to deliver any type of mea culpa or admit that it was a major mistake to keep teams like phoenix and florida alive…and he probably has taken too long in his attempts to make things better for the islanders and charles wang, a scenario that should have been settled years ago and,instead complicates things even more…and we haven’t even got to new jersey’s problems yet, either….

    hard truths need to be realized by both the owners and the players…and whether these recent public displays of negotiations are attempts to draw battle lines in the sand from this point forward and try to sway public opinion, (which seems absolutely meaningless now), it only delays the inevitable – a compromise….

    however, bettman did get one thing right….it definitely takes two….

    • USHA#17
      August 18, 2012 at 1:19 PM

      “the truth is that the league would be better off with 26 teams and a 70 to 74 game season…bettman’s crime” And, no need for Dallas or Tampa.
      The Lux tax isn’t going work…why bother? Let’s get down to the real issures:
      –how many TV time outs will be added
      –size and number of game jersey and helmet advertising patches
      –add electronic advertising behind the nets
      –end of blaring music durning time outs, now audio advertising will blare.
      –30 second audio ad prior to each face off.
      –15 second ad following a player being kicked from the circle.
      –10 second ad following a false draw.
      –all ticket purchases require valid email address with no agreement as to privacy.
      –bonus codes on the score board to spur smart phone amazon purchases during key points of the game with a special bonus for purchases made during the last 2.5 minutes of the game.
      Think I give up hockey and start attending local cock fights.

  2. BringBackTheShieldJersey
    August 16, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    You know who else has an odd role? Mario Lemieux. Owner, ex-player. Small-market team, two guys on the team making $8.7 mil/year. Biggest star in the league (Crosby) and recent Cup winner and finalist before that. I wonder what he’s thinking and which owners’ camp he plants his flag.

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