Why the NHL Needs a Commissioner Like the NBA's David Stern

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Why the NHL Needs a Commissioner Like the NBA's David Stern
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When we learned last week that NBA commissioner David Stern will retire in February of 2014, people were quick to share their opinions on what his legacy would be.

Whether you like him or not, Stern has made the NBA a far better league than it was when he first took over as commissioner in 1984. He has done a masterful job growing his sport, marketing superstar players and preventing lockouts from wiping out entire seasons, which is why the NHL needs a commissioner like him.

Current NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who used to work for Stern at the NBA, has not done enough in his tenure as commissioner to help the sport of hockey rival the other three major North American sports leagues.

Since Bettman joined the NHL directly from the NBA, many hockey fans expected him to use the same methods that worked for Stern to achieve similar success in the NHL.

However, this has not been the case.

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Stern's greatest impact on the NBA is arguably the job he's done marketing superstar players in order to maximize fan interest in basketball around the country and in individual markets.

Basketball is dominated by superstar players, and even though hockey is not as star-driven as the NBA, the NHL has done a poor job marketing some of its best players on a national and local basis.

Superstar forwards Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals were heavily marketed following the previous lockout, and their success was a major factor in the league's revenue and popularity growth to this point, but there are many other star players who have been marketed far less than they should be.

Players such as Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews and Claude Giroux need to be marketed more to help grow the game because they are young, talented players that fans will pay money to see.

Part of the NBA's immense growth in revenues during Stern's tenure can be attributed to the marketing of star players.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Stern has marketed superstars like LeBron James (right) to help the NBA's popularity rise.

You need to give people a reason to buy tickets and merchandise, and promoting star players is a really effective way to do this. Many people become fans of the sport and/or specific teams because they admire the style or the performance of certain players.

The NHL has done a poor job marketing superstar players, especially in non-traditional hockey markets. This must be fixed soon for the league's growth and popularity to continue climbing, and for teams in these non-traditional markets to survive long-term.

People pay to see stars, and this simple, yet effective plan has helped the NBA's success skyrocket since Stern's arrival in 1984.

Stern hasn't allowed lockouts to ruin the hard work that he and his employees have made to help the NBA become a very successful business. Unfortunately for the NHL, the same cannot be said for Bettman.

When a lockout forced the NBA to lose regular season games last Winter, many basketball fans were concerned, but most people figured that the league and its players would come together and prevent the dispute from killing the entire 2011-12 season.

As the NHL goes through its own lockout right now, the second in seven years and the third of Bettman's tenure, hockey fans aren't as optimistic that a season will happen as NBA fans were last year.

Stern was able to make teams profitable by bargaining for a CBA that was beneficial to the owners, while at the same time doing a good job of negotiating with the players to ensure that lockouts didn't destroy full seasons.

Not only has Bettman gone through more lockouts as commissioner in the NHL than Stern has in basketball (Stern has much more experience, too), Bettman lost an entire season in 2004-05. More than 2,000 regular season games have also been lost during his tenure, which is by far the most of any sport. The current lockout has led to the cancellation of 326 games.

Tim Boyle/Getty Images
The NHL has seen 3 lockouts in Bettman's tenure.

Stern has always put the sport of basketball first, and this is proven by the fact that the NBA has never lost a season because of a work stoppage.

The NHL needs a commissioner who is willing to negotiate with the players before his sport is significantly harmed. Thus far, Bettman has shown that he's unwilling to do what's right for hockey and prevent lockouts from limiting the sport's growth and popularity around the world.

Stern has helped the values of NBA franchises increase dramatically, he has helped player salaries grow to new heights, the sport's popularity in the United States and around the world is unbelievable and he doesn't allow lockouts to cause his league to take a step(s) back. Stern has fulfilled the requirements of his job.

Does the NHL need a commissioner like Stern?

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A commissioner works for the owners of his league, so he has an obligation to help them make the most money as possible, but at the same time, the commissioner also has to make sure that his sport isn't being damaged by things that can be prevented.

To achieve the highest amount of success on and off the ice, the NHL needs a commissioner of Stern's caliber, but unfortunately for hockey fans, Bettman isn't going anywhere for a long time, especially if he helps the owners win another round of collective bargaining.

Bettman has done a lot of good for sport of hockey, but the NHL isn't where it should be almost 20 years into his tenure. Instead of becoming one of the dominate leagues in the North American sports landscape with Bettman at the helm, the NHL is lagging behind, and there's little reason to think that will change anytime soon.

When Stern steps away from his current position, the NBA will be in a much better place than it was when he started. Will the same be said when Bettman retires from the NHL?

Right now, the answer is no.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. Follow him on Twitter.

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