Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gary Bettman = Biggest Buffoon in Pro Sports

In light of the inevitable NHL lockout (2nd in a handful of years and 3rd in 20 years), I feel it would be appropriate to point out that the commish of the NHL, Gary Bettman, is the single biggest buffoon in professional sports.  His multiple lockouts, over expansion, reluctance to embrace traditions, lack of ESPN coverage/exposure, and insistence on trying to make the NHL the NBA have ruined the NHL in the public eye and, being the boss, he deserves majority of the blame for the steady decline and for the approaching lockout.

If the league does indeed lockout the players this year, it would be the 3rd lockout in the 20 years ('95, '05, '12) under Bettman's "leadership."  How is that acceptable?  Especially if they lockout this year.  The league has just started to fully recover from the last lockout as is.  They can't afford another lost season.  He and his minions (owners) sacrificed the entire 2005 season to get what they wanted which resulted in the soon-to-be expired CBA.  Now they are emphatically stating they will not play under the current deal.  Excuse me?  This is WHAT YOU WANTED!!  Bettman touts the league's supposed growth, profits, interest. etc. but yet this is a deal in which he cannot move forward with?  Meanwhile, his owners (looking at you Minnesota Wild) cry poor but yet don't hesitate to throw 13-year, $100MM deals at free agents (Suter and Parise).  How does this make any sense?  Not to mention ticket prices have steadily increased since the previous lockout when it was supposed to be the other way around.  Mr. Bettman, why don't you just come forward and say what we all know:  You are greedy.  Plain and simple.  As George Malik of Kukla's Korner puts it, Gary views fans as nothing more than walking dollar signs.  He continues to completely ignore his steadily declining fan base except every few years when CBAs expire when he gives us all the one-fingered salute.  He treats us like sheep in which he wouldn't think twice about slaughtering.

Can we all agree Bettman's brilliant Sun Belt Experiment/expansion is a failure?  If we're all being honest with ourselves, the fact that the NHL has/had teams in the cities of Phoenix, Atlanta, Nashville, Columbus, Dallas, Raleigh, and has not one, but TWO teams in Florida is pointless and maybe a tad silly?  Hockey is a regional/niche sport that is played on ICE and not the beach.  He moved a CANADIAN team (Winnipeg) to the freaking desert (Coyotes) for Heaven's sake!  That franchise is now looking for an owner that can keep it afloat.  Smart move Gary.  He put a team in a city (Atlanta or "HOTLANTA") that has a weak fan base across all sports.  They failed miserably and have since moved to Winnipeg and are forced to still play in a division of teams in the southeastern edge of the country.  Awesome.  Columbus is a disaster who has made the playoffs once and just traded the only star they ever had in Rick Nash.  Nashville has done squat in terms of success and failed to keep a cornerstone player (Suter) and nearly lost another (Weber) until they showed him the money.  And don't forget, a successful team was moved from a hockey-crazed state in Minnesota (North Stars) to a city where football is life (Dallas) and the city shuts down at the first sight of snow only to create the expansion Wild years later who have had basically zero success.  Oh, and Dallas has won a Stanley Cup.  I think the fans of Minny would appreciate a Cup 10x more than those in Dallas.  Years later the Wild are still far from being a Cup contender despite breaking the bank for Suter and Parise.  And now there are talks of adding another team to Toronto and one in Vegas?  If anything the league should lap off AT LEAST 6 teams.  The talent in the league is watered down being spread among too many teams.  Cut it down and we will see better teams across the board in places where fans will appreciate the sport. 

It also is not a shock that the smaller market/warm-weather teams are struggling financially and on the ice.  Why?  BECAUSE PEOPLE DO NOT CARE ABOUT HOCKEY IN THESE PLACES AND NEVER WILL!!!  GET A CLUE!!  Having too many teams in non-traditional markets is a big reason the league is supposedly struggling.  It doesn't take a genius to see this.

Hockey is a sport that has rich, long-standing traditions in which the fans take pride in.  Don't tell that to Gary Bettman.  He could care less about traditions.  He'd rather make his own.  The perfect example is the Detroit Red Wings.  An Original Six team along with the Rangers, Leafs, Hawks, Bruins, and Habs.  The teams the Wings have in their division in which they play 50 times per yer are the Blue Jackets, Blues, Predators, and the lone Original Six Blackhawks.  And to top it off, they are geographically misplaced in the Western Conference where they are forced to travel to the West Coast multiple times during the season and playoffs.  By being in the West, they seldom play Boston, New York, Montreal, or Toronto and thus those once heated rivalries are as good as dead.  Meanwhile Gary tries to force rivalries with hockey giants such as the Nashville Predators.  Give me a break.  Teams like the Wings should be battling teams like the Maple Leafs and Habs yearly for divisional crowns and in the playoffs, not teams in which their fans don't know the difference between offsides and icing.  Bettman does not care.  He is too busy getting teams like the Wings in cities like Nashville and Columbus 10x per year to "grow the sport."  Good grief.  Enough.  Expansion has failed.  Admit it and let's move on.

If Gary Bettman were truly interested in growing the sport of hockey, he would have the NHL on the biggest (and for all intents and purposes the only) sports network in the United States: ESPN.  Everybody in the free world who has some form of cable has ESPN and most watch it in some capacity.  Instead he took what was supposed to be the "better deal" and took his circus to The NBC Sports Network formally Versus and formally the Outdoor Life Network which was probably the Bass Fishing Channel before that.  A network that many cable companies do not even offer.  How is that growing the sport?  For many years people could not even find playoff games and were searching on QVC for games.  But this is growing the sport?  Riiiiiiiiiiggghhhtt.  Before the lockout, ESPN had it's own show, NHL Tonight, dedicated to the sport and had multiple segments of SportCenter dedicated to the NHL.  Now ESPN highlights POKER and SPELLING BEES and plays the WNBA (no disrespect) while it has maybe 1 or 2 hockey highlights per night.  I'm sorry but even though I have grown to think ESPN has become laughable at times with the garbage they cover consistently (Jets' camp, "King James", Yankees vs. Sox) if you're not prevalent on ESPN you are not relevant.  Hockey has become an afterthought and not even a top 4 sport in the minds of most and a big reason is because of its lack of big time TV exposure.  Another dynamite move Gary!

The biggest problem with Gary Bettman that encompasses all of the above failures is that he came from the NBA as David Stern's right-hand man and has tried to turn the NHL into the NBA.  The over expansion, death of traditional rivalries, rule changes, etc. are sterling examples.  Expanding the league to smaller markets or hot weather cities has worked for basketball.  It has failed for hockey.  People in cold-weather cities grow up with hockey and therefore they appreciate and understand the sport.  Where are kids in Phoenix going to play pond hockey hmmmm?  On the flip side basketball can be played anywhere and anytime of the year thus, inner city kids and kids all over the U.S. have gravitated to it more than hockey.  Kids growing up in Miami are not going to grow up loving hockey.  Therefore, they most likely will not grow up to be Panthers season ticket holders.  They simply do not care about hockey.  Why spend millions to force it down their throats when they will just puke it right back up in your face?  The NHL is not, and never will be, the NBA.  It should not be marketed like the NBA.  It should not be expanded like the NBA.  It will never be as popular as the NBA.  Stop wasting money and resources in cities where they will never care.  It's really that simple. My parents told me when I was growing up to not try to be something I am not.  Apparently Gary's parents didn't relay the same message.  If they did, he obviously didn't listen which shouldn't shock anyone.  Gary does what he wants, how he wants, and when he wants.  Fans be damned.

As you can see, I can rant all day when it comes to the worst commissioner in all of sports aka Gary Bettman.  His arrogance, along with the above examples, has resulted in multiple lockouts, a watered down league, a league that gets minimum exposure, and a league that has become a second-tier afterthought in the world of major sports.  Many will say he is simply a talking head for the owners.  I say that he is the boss and thus the fingers should be pointed squarely at him.  Period.  If the owners are controlling him then he is then a puppet which is just as bad, if not worse.  The NHL needs a "hockey guy" at the helm.  For the last 20 years the NHL has had an NBA outcast that has no clue how to appeal to the true hockey fans and it has been dying a slow death ever since.  His arrogance, stubbornness, greed, and above all, his incompetence will serve as the bullets that will ultimately flat line the league.  I guess we will all become poker fans.

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