We live in a “perception is reality” world. In all walks of life, what people think is true is just as important as what really is. In fact, if enough people think something—sometimes the truth doesn’t even matter. That’s the current problem the NHL faces with its current leadership group. I hate to put a PR type spin on this, but any public relations representative will tell you that perception is reality. Right now, the perception is that Gary Bettman is incompetent and is running the NHL into the ground. With so many problems facing the NHL right now (even with a great product), maybe it’s something the NHL needs to take a strong look at.
It’s easy to take cheap shots at Gary Bettman. He’s made more than one bad decision during his tenure in office; but for every single decision that Gary Bettman has made during his time with the NHL, there has been a reason for it. You can say that he made a bad decision, but another fan may say that it was the right move at the right time. I’m not about to argue the merits of each and every one of his moves, but what I will argue is that he’s lost all trust with the fans and people around the game. There’s a feeling that the vast majority of hockey fans have NO confidence in him to lead the NHL to better days. Once someone loses trust, it’s a hell of an uphill battle to restore it. The NHL has enough battles it needs to fight.
On that note, look at Gary Bettman. He’s PERCEIVED as a joke around the sports world. He comes off as a pompous know-it-all. It’s one thing for a competent, successful commissioner to act like that; yet quite another for someone with Bettman’s track record to have that kind of persona. It’s like an Edmonton Oilers fan walking around acting like they’re on top of the world. At some point, there’s a serious disconnect between their attitude and reality.
Take a look at NFL’s Roger Goddell and NBA’s David Stern. Both of those executives have an idea of what they’re doing. Stern has the Napoleon thing down—but he also brought the NBA from the shadows to the spotlight in the American sports landscape. Roger Goddell has instituted his own code-of-conduct for NFL players that preempts the US legal system—but people TRUST that it’s for the good of the game because he works to grow the game with common sense. As an outsider, I just get the feeling that Roger Goddell has the sport’s best interests at heart. It’s nothing concrete. There’s no spreadsheet that I can point to that proves my point. It’s a feeling—a feeling that I’ve NEVER had about Gary Bettman and the sport of hockey.
Goddell and Stern have earned my respect. Bettman has not. And I know that I’m not the only one.
As a human being, Bettman comes off as an asshole. There is no other way to say it. He just sounds, speaks and has the personality of a jerk. David Stern comes off as an intelligent, stern (no pun intended) businessman. Goddell runs his league with pragmatism and flexibility. I would LOVE to sit down with Stern or Goddell and pick their brain about the way they see things and the way they work through their problem-solving. I can’t say that I’d want that with Bettman. Tell me, which one would YOU want running your league?
Here’s the point: When you have someone that is in a high-profile position and it’s perceived as a problem—then it IS a problem.
Stop and think about your own workplace that you deal with everyday. If you’re in a management position, then you’ll know exactly what I mean. Sometimes, everyone THINKING someone is a problem is actually bigger than the problems they create. That’s the problem that Bettman has with NHL fans. It doesn’t even matter what he does anymore—people have already decided that he’s the problem.
Now think about the NHL without him and the negative connotations his name breeds. Think about the culture around the NHL and the sports landscape if he were to be replaced. It doesn’t matter who the replacement is. They could replace him with ANYONE. The point is that the new hire would be given a clean slate. He’d have a laundry list of extremely tenuous situations to handle—but for once, fans would be able to give their leader the benefit of the doubt.
Just as a reminder, here some of the issues that the NHL is currently dealing with or will be faced with in the near future:
- The NHL is on a network that is not currently carried by the United States biggest Satellite provider—a problem that effects over 50 million people.
- A KHL/NHL agreement: It’s non-existent.
- Even though the NHL had a labor stoppage only 5 years ago because the owners wanted fiscal stability, we see that the system is broken as owners continually sell and claim to endure huge losses.
- A labor agreement: Bettman has presided over 2 work stoppages and is staring a 3rd in the face.
- The Sochi Olympics: Is there anyone who thinks that Bettman has ANY INTENTION of letting the players go to Russia in 4 years?
Each of these situations has the potential to be a problem. Put them all together, and a struggling league should be taking steps to AVOID combative conditions. Instead, it looks like the present administration is headed straight for them—and doesn’t care.
Let me ask you this (and this is a serious question): If you were in a serious negotiation that would deeply affect the rest of your life and could have ANY person represent you, would you trust Bettman to be your advocate? It’s a simple question. At a table when you need to be surrounded by people you trust to be competent, is Bettman your man? I can tell you unequivocally that he wouldn’t be in my Top 100. I may or may not be correct—but that’s my perception of the man and his competency. And at this point, that might be more important than his actual skill.
There are some serious problems with the NHL and unfortunately, none of them can be fixed until the problem on the surface is dealt with. No one is going to trust that the network fiasco is dealt with properly if Bettman is doing the dealing. No one is going to trust labor agreements if Bettman is doing the agreeing. No one is going to trust leadership if Bettman is doing the leading. You get the idea. No one is going to trust anything, if Gary Bettman is the one doing it.
It’s a crisis of confidence— only without Jimmy Carter, Iranians and gas lines. Things can’t get better until the confidence is restored.
What do you think of the current leadership in the NHL? If your voice could be heard, what changes would YOU propose to improve the current state of the NHL?