Gary Bettman is the worst thing that has happened to hockey. But especially annoying to me, he has got to be one of the the worst sports commissioners ever, if you believe that the job of a commissioner is the prudent management of the game, the league, the business, the customers, the players, the owners, the franchises and the team. Its a tall order admittedly and no one can do it perfectly. But that should not be an excuse to laze your way through the oversight of an institution that is dear to many stakeholders, just because you happen to have awesome leverage to play them all against each other.
And I don’t mean to dump on Bettman because I’m pissed that there will likely be a lockout in two days (well, not solely). He is the worst because hockey has suffered three lockouts under his reign and its his methods/attitude that are responsible for the current mess. And we have to suffer because of his complete incompetence.
Listening to his smarmy doublespeak is grating on the ears not only because of his tone, his wasp-ish passive-aggressive snark or his holier-than-thou attitude. Its because I find it unfathomable how anyone listening to his public statements doesn’t come away feeling they are dealing with a dishonest sleazeball beyond rational negotiation. He knows he has all the leverage and he is not above using it to extract every last drop of blood. I mean this is obvious listening to him, isn’t it?
Question: Gary, today a number of players, Sidney Crosby, among them said that they feel like the League has been using the potential for a lock-out as a negotiating tactic. What does that… how do you react to that?
Bettman: uuhhh… I’m not unders… I’m not sure I understand it. That is a bit of a non-sequiter because the fact of the matter is that we have been clear that the Collective Bargaining Agreement upon its expiration needs to have a successful agreement for us to move forward because the League is not in a position not willing to move forward with another season under the status quo, which is the Collective Bargaining Agreement which is expiring.
Bullshit. Either the threat of a lock-out is a negotiating position or its not. Bettman is saying it never was a negotiating position. What Bettman is freely admitting here is that the players had it wrong with this assumption. He’s the crazy guy with the gun who will pull the trigger on a lock-out unless he gets his way. He’s not willing to budge an inch.
Question: Gary.. uh.. one thing we have heard from the players is that there is nothing in any of the offers and the stages that the offers are at that they can grasp on to that is deemed as anything other than a retrenchment from where they are now. So how would you respond to that… and do you think that is an obstacle in the negotiations?
Bettman: Well um um… Again, I’m not exactly sure that I understand the punchline of it being an obstacle in the negotiations to quote them or quote you. The fact is that we believe 57% of HRR ; is too much. And there are lots of reasons for that and, at least as we’ve discussed previously, two other leagues, the NBA and the NFL, their players have recognized in these economic times that… that there was a need to retrench. Ugh… We’re trying to have negotiation over that, but… but in terms of getting your arms around it and we discussed this yesterday, under our most recent proposal, players share gets reduced in the first year…
I’m quoting in full his answer above, except for the very last “…” as he goes on at some length. He ends his answer with this gem:
Bettmen: …so in terms of what it all means if your trying to get your arms around it, even a brief lockout will cost more in terms of lost salary and wages than what we’re purposing to do to make a deal that we think we need to make.
First, the NBA and NFL have revenue-sharing. Second, they have major TV revenues because the guys responsible for the management of those leagues realize that having a lockout every 7 years is no way to treat your consumers and TV partners (he doesn’t mention MLB, which still hasn’t quite recovered from the hit it took in the early 90s lock-out and not just from TV). Third, in the way he ends that sentence, he’s basically telling the players that I’ve got you by the balls and, every second you spend away from the rink, the vice-like grip tightens. It’s in your interest to take my offer now and I’ll loosen the grip for another 6 years until I come back for another chunk.
Question: What in your offer would you deem as attractive to them… in other words I mean, going back to your original offer, it was a… a… a rollback so to speak but also tightening up of contract rules and language. So I don’t… What I’m hearing from them is that they don’t see anything that is a trade-off. Its all something that they’d have to concede.
Bettman: Wuh… Well… the… we believe … uughh… you know we’ve had seven years of… of incredible competitive balance… uh 29 clubs have made the playoffs. We’ve had 7 different Stanley Cup Champions. Ughh… the game on the ice has never been better….
Then why the fuck are you cancelling hockey? He goes on in some vein but can’t answer the simple question about what the League is giving to the players in exchange for all their substantial concessions. Because he can’t come up with one. He doesn’t give a shit. It’s all about the money.
That was the first three questions. See the rest of the interview from earlier today if you want to here.
Cue someone else to say hockey is a business. Screw you, this isn’t how you run a business. He’s hurting the business side too. Hockey would be much bigger if they removed Gary Bettman from the picture. Only in the world of hockey would such an abysmal failure be tolerated for multi-decades.
As ever, read Tom Benjamin to get a more cogent, less-vitriol spewing rational analysis than the one provided by yours truly.