Gary Bettman was named Sports Executive of the Year by the Sports Business Journal at their annual Sports Business Awards. It’s not the only award the NHL was given on Wednesday night, however. Its Winter Classic was named the Sports Event of the Year, and the NHL was named Sports League of the Year. Not too shabby, and the last two awards wouldn’t be possible without Bettman.
I know, I know. “No one likes Bettman!” Keep in mind that’s what fans say. I’m not personally thrilled with him still over the way that the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers was handled, but as time has passed I’ve realized that moves like that are what make Bettman an excellent choice for the honor. He took a money-pit of a franchise and moved it to a city where hockey is a way of life, and he’s added quite the nice bump to league revenues because of it. He managed to find a buyer for the Phoenix Coyotes, which in itself is a miracle.
Under his tenure as commissioner, the league has expanded its Winter Classic, a cash cow by itself, into the Stadium Series, which was a cash herd. It’s embraced social media, it’s embraced transparency (to a degree) through the NHL Department of Player Safety videos released to explain reasoning for suspensions. The league signed a deal in 2011 worth $2 billion with NBC Sports, which won three awards themselves at the awards. Most recently, it signed a colossus of a deal with the Canadian broadcast network SportsNet for full broadcast rights worth $5.2 billion.
The league has managed to survive two lockouts and come out of things better off than they were before, posting a revenue of $2.3 billion dollars in a lockout shortened season. This past season set record attendance numbers.
I’m about as big of a Bettman fan as anyone else reading this blog. As far as business goes, however, you have to put your personal feelings about him aside and admit that he’s been one hell of a businessman and that the NHL has reaped serious rewards from his tenure as commissioner.