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The Commish Speaks

SeligNHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is in London for the kickoff of the NHL's 90th season.

Bettman, who has been fighting to get the Marlins a stadium in Miami, had a bunch of things to say. Here's a selection of his comments, courtesy of the NHL.

There's some good stuff in here, from the games in Europe to whether he thinks suspended players should be allowed to participate in the preseason.

Enjoy.

Bettman_2 For us, this was an opportunity to dip our toe in the water in Europe, take what we believe is the most international of the North American sports, and bring it to the other side of the Atlantic. And while, obviously,  London and England may not be the strongest markets in the world, it puts us in closer proximity to markets and people have traveled here. ...

I just bumped into a number of the Kings players and the coaching staff as I was walking in here. They are all thrilled to be here and are enjoying the trip. I'm here, as well, enjoying myself, though I've only been here two hours.

Q. What is the plan for next year, the year after that in terms of doing this again? Where would you like to go? Will there be more teams involved?

That's a great question. I'm going to probably disappoint you with the answer. We can blue sky lots of different things, more teams, more places, but that would be blue skying. Please don't let your headline writers say, ‘We're doing more games in more places.’

What we're going to do is debrief once the experience is over, talk to the teams, talk to the players, and make sure that not so much today and tomorrow but next week when they're back and they've readjusted to the time zones, that everything is okay. Because, first and foremost for us, it's about the competition. We have to make sure we're creating the right circumstance for the real games that count.

The benefit of these games is that they count, and the thing that we have to worry about most is that they count. So we're going to have to debrief.

Obviously, if this works well, we're going to want to use this as a steppingstone. Being able to play in a facility like the 02 gives us great comfort. 

Is it important to put priority on having success in some of your markets you're not having a lot of success in before you broach coming to Europe?

Bettman2 First of all, our franchises are doing better than they've ever done before. As the league, I anticipate another season of record attendance. The last two seasons, post the work stoppage, have both had record attendance. Yes, there are always markets that are up and markets that are down, but we're still playing to 92% of capacity. Actually, season ticket sales were up compared to where we were last year at the same time. I think the core business is strong in that regard.

And I've said this previously. Our definition, our collective definition of struggling franchises, has changed dramatically. We used to worry about franchises struggling as they were on the verge or sometimes actually in bankruptcy. We don't have that any more.  We have some franchises whose fortunes can improve, whose attendance can improve. The fact of the matter is none of our franchises is in jeopardy in the way that they were a few years ago. All of our franchises have an opportunity to be economically stable and competitive at the same time. So I think over time you're going to see increased strengthening in our game.

There seems to be a quantum leap that's being made that we have this grand plan to put franchises on the continent here. And my response to that was, I'll never say never to anything but that's not anything that we're currently contemplating. Our first goal is to be as strong as possible in  North America.

North AmericaBut we are trying to be responsive to the fact, because we're in better shape than we've been, we're trying to be responsive to the interests of the game. You bring over a couple of regular-season games. You have a deal with NASN where we're putting on two or three games a week on television. We're having more of a presence, but we're not straying too far from what is our core foundation, and that's North America.

 Q. Why not be a leader? Instead of following, why not jump up and say, We are going to be the first North American professional league and most international to put a footprint in  Europe?

  Well, it's not a question of being a leader or a follower. I would suggest that by being here today we're being a leader in some respects. But it's not about being a leader; it's about doing what's right for your game and doing it on a timetable that makes sense. For us, as strong as we've come back, there are very few businesses that could be out of business for a year and come back as strong as we did.

We've got to make sure that our core - and our core is Canada and the United States - is as healthy and vibrant as we know it can be and will be over time as we continue to strengthen before we worry about, you know, throwing haste to the wind and saying, Oh, great, we're going to put a bunch of franchises in Europe. It's much more complicated than that both from our standpoint and as a follow-up to the last question dealing with the existing structures that are there.

Q. You mentioned earlier the league sold out the two games without any advertising, marketing or promotion. I've been here since Tuesday afternoon. I haven't met anyone outside this building who knows about these games.

Stern_2 It's interesting because depending on where you're staying and who you're interacting with depends on your experience. I'm getting a different reaction not from everybody but there are people telling me there's a real buzz about these games.

I think it may be just a question of who we're interacting with and who you have an opportunity to see. I don't know how much time you're actually spending outside of this building.

Q. Here is the thing. I've been here for four days. You've been here for two hours. I think I have a broader survey than you have.

Neither of them is probably scientific.

Q. With regards to the debriefing, will you ultimately consider the fact you're starting the season early and possibly doing that for the rest of the league so we can finish earlier than mid June?

There's always a very good debate in the league. A lot of the clubs actually want to start later because when it's still 80 degrees out, even in northern outposts of our game, people are saying, We shouldn't be in training camp in early September. We shouldn't start early October. We should wait till the middle of October. Baseball is getting ready for its playoffs. Football season is in full gait.

There are 30 teams playing at the beginning of the season and there are two at the end. I think more teams are concerned about getting a slightly later start as long as we're finishing by mid or the first third of June. That's the constant debate. Obviously for the two teams that are here, we let them start a little early because we want to give them an opportunity to readjust when they fly back and deal with jetlag.

But I think if you polled the clubs, I think more of them would tell you they'd rather see a slightly later start than early start. Frankly, if we start in September, we're going to be opening up training camps before Labor Day. I'm not sure the clubs or the players want that.

Q. Do the fans want it, is the question?

I don't think the fans do either. To answer your question a little more scientifically, our attendance tends to increase month by month. October is our weakest attendance. November gets stronger. December gets stronger. So the later we get into our season, the stronger our attendance gets. So I believe that's how the fans are responding.

Q. Is it time to start looking at the concept of having suspended players not play in pre-season games?

Yeah, I think as a general rule that probably makes a lot of sense. I think people are referring to (Chris) Simon. That was a little unique because there was a minimum number of games. We may have oversimplified his suspension because, for example, I think the math worked out if the Islanders had gone to the third round of the playoffs, depending on how long each series was, then the suspension would have been over.

I'm not a big fan of counting pre-season games in a suspension because sometimes that's not viewed as punishment. But in a typical suspension, probably it's better to have the player sitting out as well.

Simon was a unique circumstance based on the way that suspension was levied. But point is well-taken and understood and not one we disagree with.

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