Before the Stanley Cup Final starts, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman takes the podium for what is typically dubbed ‘The State of the Game’ address.
It’s news from the top mixed with a recap of the past few months of NHL activity. This year’s event was far more news than recap.
On the state of the league …
“When we came back from the work stoppage, we were projecting revenues for the return season of around $2 billion. We said if we could get to $3 billion by the last year of the basic term, which is the 2010-11 season, the growth rate would have been great. It’s too early to tell with exact precision, but if we’re not exactly at $3 billion, we’re certainly within chipping distance of it.”
Thankfully, the lockout of 2004-05 has faded into distant memory. TV ratings are up, a new deal with NBC Universal/Comcast is in place. The league just reached its largest sponsorship deal in its history with MillerCoors and Molson, and the Canadian dollar has created franchise health and stability north of the border.
With those increased revenues, the salary cap will go up, possibly as high as $63 million according to NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.
In other news, Brendan Shanahan will take over as the new head of discipline, also overseeing a committee on player safety.
“In this revised role, Brendan will be responsible for developing rules related to better protecting our players without changing the fundamental nature of our game, dealing with equipment and safety issues related to equipment, and pursuant to a request made by Colin Campbell, Brendan will administer commissioner supplemental discipline.”
There will be no realignment for the 2011-12 season according to Bettman, but he indicates there will be movement and possibly a move towards a more balanced schedule in 2012-13.
“In order to do a schedule for next season, it’s not possible to do realignment right now. Winnipeg, despite its geographic peculiarities relative to the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference, will be playing in that division and in that conference, with an assurance that for the following season they will be in the west.
We have a number of clubs that would like to address specific issues on realignment. All those clubs need an opportunity to be heard. That’s a process we’ll go through the first half of next season, looking at the issues that clubs want to raise, looking at various possibilities, and trying to figure out what will make the most sense moving forward.
If I had to guess anything, and this is purely speculation, as much as I hate to do that, because ultimately it’s a Board decision, I think we’ll wind up moving towards a slightly more balanced schedule to accommodate the variety of issues I’ve heard so far from the clubs.”
For the record, Winnipeg is approximately 2,200 miles from Miami, also in the Southeast division. The city is about 1,000 miles from Detroit.
As for the NHL’s participation in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Bettman addressed that as well.
“There is no update. That, again, is something that we will be in discussions with the Players’ Association on because the international competitions, be it the conducting of a World Cup, which we’re interested in doing, and the participation in the Winter Olympics, is something that we need to discuss and resolve with the Players’ Association.
Mr. (Donald) Fehr has been on the job a relatively short time. He’s putting together his organization. He’s been doing a lot of homework and catching up. In due course, we’ll be having those discussions.”
I don’t have any word or evidence to back this up, but the guess here is that the upcoming Olympic TV rights deal may play into this decision. If NBC Universal Comcast were to retain the games for 2014, the league would probably be more inclined to see its players there. On the other hand, if ESPN/ABC, or FOX were to win the broadcast rights for Sochi, it may be harder to stop play for a few weeks, while seeing an NBC competitor benefit in the process.