NHL: Why Gary Bettman Is the Worst Commissioner in Sports History

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NHL: Why Gary Bettman Is the Worst Commissioner in Sports History
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Oh, Gary Bettman. What a tenure you've had as NHL commissioner.

The NHL is flying high, relatively speaking. Emerging from all the bad feelings of the 2004-05 lockout, from which the players are still smarting after accepting massive concessions and a year in lost wages, the NHL has enjoyed an average annual increase of 7.1 percent in revenues since then (per CSN Philly).

The NHL now pulls in a record $3.3 billion per year. The owners reap the benefits of money factories in the form of taxpayer-funded stadiums. Attendance has continued to rise, and 21.5 million people attended a hockey game last season. Gary Bettman is making double his salary from the last lockout.

So let's cancel another season.

Why? Because over the two decades of Bettman's leadership, the NHL has gradually morphed into a league run by a few wealthy owners empowered by Bettman's misguided expansion efforts. Because it's easier than dealing with the money leaches that are the Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix Coyotes and New York Islanders.

Asking NHL owners and the NHL leadership to act like responsible, self-respecting businessmen and run their franchises in a profitable manner is not on the table in this lockout. Instead, players will have to pay the price of poor business practices.

By any measure, a lockout is a failure in leadership. And to have three of them in your tenure? That's impressive. By Gary Bettman's own admission, this lockout is happening because of his own bungling of the last one (via CSNPhilly.com).

“We made, at the time, what we thought was a fair deal,” Bettman said on Sept. 13. “It actually turned out to be more fair than perhaps it should have been.”

There are those that suggest Bettman has been a great commissioner because of the NHL's rise in popularity. What he did to contribute to that rise, other than introduce the Winter Classic, is unclear.

What is clear is that this actually makes him look even WORSE as a commissioner, because despite the sport's rise, the league is apparently making so little in the way of profits that they have to lockout the players twice in just seven years.

That's cartoonish mismanagement from a business standpoint.

A mere decade after the first lockout in 1994-1995 lopped off almost half the season, Bettman, in a desperate bid to save a floundering league hemorrhaging money, took it a step further and cancelled an entire season in 2004-05 to get players to take major concessions.

And now—just seven years later—here we are again, with many of the same demands on the table. Does this sound like a commissioner that knows how to run a league? Or does it sound like a bungling businessman who thinks it's a good idea to put ice hockey teams in regions filled with deserts and palm trees?

A key disagreement between the players and the owners is revenue sharing. The owners want the players to foot the bill. But in reality, if the owners have to handle this on their own, it will force Gary Bettman to actually do his job—or expose him as someone who can't.

Perhaps if owners were required to foot the bill for revenue sharing among the franchises, highly profitable teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs—i.e. clubs that bring in revenues for the league—would be punished, and money-leaches like the Phoenix Coyotes would be rewarded.

This might actually put pressure on Gary Bettman to start managing the league in a responsible manner by having to deal with owners wondering why they're funding Bettman's failed pet project to get hockey to catch on in the Deep South. Instead, Bettman is trying to insulate himself by heaping all the punishment for his poor decisions and mismanagement on the NHLPA.

“If it turned out to be too rich a deal for the first seven years, we lived with it," Bettman said a few days ago, "but I’m not going to apologize for saying, ‘You know what? We need to adjust it.’”

Of course you're not.

Because as a representative of the wealthiest owners, you've done a fantastic job in protecting their profits at the expense of the players in this mess of a league saddled with expansion failures of your own creation.

But as a man charged with running a profitable league that has a sensible business model and—you know—actually plays its seasons, you've been the worst commissioner in sports history.

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