MacLean Vs. Bettman

I love interviews between Gary Bettman and Ron MacLean.  Nobody else that I’ve seen holds the NHL Commissioner’s feet to the fire the way MacLean does.  Now, that’s probably because very few people have the pulpit MacLean does, but there’s no denying that he’s willing to go head to head on questions other people aren’t.


The latest instalment in the on-screen relationship between these two took place at the second intermission of last night’s Philadelphia/Chicago game, and it saw Bettman go after MacLean for asking questions about franchise values.  I know not everybody agrees with how MacLean conducts these interviews, but in this case I thought he did a good job of keeping whatever personal animosity he might have for the commissioner subdued, and that it was the commissioner – if any one – who was overly confrontational.


Bettman didn’t like the questions, and he tried a bunch of different tacks to get out of them.  He went from suggesting MacLean’s take on things wasn’t helpful, interpreting what his viewers wanted to see, berating MacLean for ignoring the excellent hockey in order to concentrate on business matters, and so on.  Bettman’s generally a little more polished at dodging questions than that; frankly I thought it reflected badly on him.


In particular, his reaction to the southern Ontario suggestion intrigued me.  Rather than address MacLean’s point about profitability – a factual and relevant point – he chose to play politics, suggesting that viewers might be offended at how little regard MacLean had for Quebec City and Winnipeg.  It’s just a shame we didn’t get an answer to the question.

Comments (23)

  1. Yawn. If this had happened pre-lockout, Ron would have been saying how a city like Chicago obviously wasn’t a hockey town and wondering why the NHL kept them around.

    I know I get extra-frustrated by CBC’s coverage because I’m a fan of an American team that lives in Canada, but I’m in agreement with Puck Daddy on this one – Bettman “won” the interview. I still don’t know what the fuck McLean was talking about with Dallas, since (a) they’ve made money, and a LOT of it, since moving there, and (b) Hicks wouldn’t have sold the team if it wasn’t for the Liverpool situation.

    A lot of the time with these, McLean seems to rely on the fact that he believes (wrongly, IMHO) that Canadian fans aren’t paying attention to what’s happening with teams south of the border. It’s that condescending attitude – just like CBC’s coverage of the Canucks against the Kings and Hawks, where they were SHOCKED that the fans of the American teams were so passionate and they fed Vancouver fans’ insane conspiracy theories – that offends me most regarding the CBC’s hockey package.

    Thank god I only have to put up with them for one more game this year before NBC comes back.

  2. … it’s a shame he never answers ANY questions and is never willing to admit to anything… hell, he couldn’t even admit at the end of the interview that it may have been confrontational, classic Bettman.

    On the FAN 590 this morn, Ron said that he felt sorry for Gary and went easy on him.

  3. Like a lot of complicated issues, it’s a two way street and both men are at fault. Here are some random thoughts because I’m not sure where I’m going with this…

    - Bettman is so god damn worried about constantly protecting and promoting the NHL that he never admits any faults or the possibility that someone else besides him or his staff has a relevant or intriguing point. Maybe if he realized that unlike a lot of the other major sports in North America, hockey fans are a smart and RICH bunch who are very interested in the business happenings of their sport and therefore would like Gary to open up a bit more when it comes to these issues. Then commentators like MacLean wouldn’t be so “off the mark” with his questions; all of which I completely understood and knew the background to.

    - I agree with what Stephen said in the fact that MacLean did play the Canadian card a little rough. I don’t blame him for it, but it was evident none-the-less.

    - Sure, Gary, the players didn’t wanna move from the fuckin’ desert in one summer because then they would have to move their families too. But, if you asked them where hockey should be in the long term, they would say Winnipeg, Quebec City, and Southern Ontario because THAT’S WHERE THEY ARE FROM.

  4. Didn’t mean to enter but its my last point. As much as Stephen above is upset with CBC, this is just another reason why I love it. NBC isn’t going to give you an interview like this, and neither is Versus. Knock on CBC for their opinions, but they do a great job of capturing the essence of the game and their analysis from a former hockey player standpoint is the best thing on TV.

    I’m truly lucky to have grown up with it available in the states and I won’t know what to do if I don’t have it wherever I land when I get out of college.

  5. Gary Bettman is a genius. Ron Maclean needs to stop listening to Glen Healy and he needs to stop trying to be Walter Cronkite and stick to being Abbot to Cherry’s Costello.
    The league is in better shape now than it has ever been. Outside of the NFL, it is probably the most secure sports league in the world. As Bettman pointed out, the Texas Rangers went bankrupt. The product is better than it was 10 years ago (remember rugby on ice?). There is competitive parity (good for fans and players) and cost certainty (good for owners and players).
    Winnipeg and Quebec were doomed, Bettman turned those dying franchises into cash and US exposure (by moving them to Colorado and Phoenix). He turned a small time operation into an international powerhouse. He brought a cap and equalization payments into the league thereby saving small Canadian cities a place in the league, Edmonton and Calgary would’ve followed Winnipeg and Quebec soon enough if he hadn’t.
    The Thompson family would not be buying into the Peg without Bettman’s changes; they’ve always had billions but where were they in 1997? Right, choosing to make money in a different business and not in the NHL.
    The players do not play for the love of the game, they play for money and would much rather play in Florida or Phoenix over Quebec, Winnipeg, Edmonton,Calgary,Toronto or Montreal. Better tax situation, better weather, better lifestyle (if you’re rich) and far better marketing opportunities. Don’t kid yourself into thinking otherwise. Think Gretzky misses Edmonton? Think Messier does? Where do they choose to live now?

    • “Outside of the NFL, it is probably the most secure sports league in the world. ”
      The English Premier Football league is far and away more successful than either the NFL or the NHL. Typical North American: comment on global matters without ever looking past its own borders.
      Ron Maclean rocks and Bettman is a weasel.

  6. And for the record, MacLean came out of this interview looking like an ignorant Fox News douchebag.
    He got dummied big time, every point he made was easily and accurately refuted. Bettman made him look like a whinny 12 year old child. If Ron’s closing apology/statement was accurate, why take such a confrontational tact? Why not ask the questions without the hyperbole and rhetoric? I think I may have just developed a hate for MacLean, he went from singing Bettman a birthday song to insulting his intelligence and attacking him with poorly prepared and misleading questions to apologizing for his tact in 9 painful minutes. He ended up looking like a clueless bitch.
    Show some class next time Ron, you can do better.

  7. Wow someones drinkin the koolaid….

  8. I’m in shock someone is actually defending Bettman and what he’s done somewhere hell is freezing over….

  9. noskillgill: I have no idea what interview you were watching but Bettman side stepped nearly every question with typical politician bull. I love that Maclean went at him in the interview and if you ask me was too easy on him, and unfortunately was unprepared for the rebuttles. In comparing him to Fox though is completely idiotic, Fox spews inaccurate messages based on their owners religious and political view points. Everything Maclean said was truth. You don’t think the players want more teams in Canada? Of course they do, they’ve got millions in escrow and right now the more teams in Canada, means the more of that money they will get back. They don’t want their hard earned money being used to help southern american teams stay afloat. I certainly agree that 15 years ago we were in serious trouble with most of the franchises in canada but that was more due to the fact that our Canadian dollar was trading at like 66 cents and we had to pay the players in American dollars. Quebec and Winnipeg lost their teams simply because they weren’t willing to build a new arena, and rightfully so, why should tax payers and governments foot the bill for building arenas.

  10. [...] too.  But he didn’t want to talk about the hockey game.” Campbell was referring to Wednesday’s interview with Gary Bettman during the second intermission, which surely you’ve seen or at least read about by now.  Not [...]

  11. Bettman responds like the lawyer he is to MacLean’s questions. He does a good job of deflecting and re-directing so he can get his talking points in and never strays. His PR handlers have him prepped well so I’m not sure why anyone tries to get him to answer a tough question – because he won’t.

    And talk about spin – wanting to champion Canadian fans when he wants to right the wrongs of Winnipeg and Quebec City. Hate to say it’s all about using others to get what he wants out of Phoenix as he’s finally under some pressure to re-coup the money the league has put out on this team. He has no intention of putting a team back in Canada in his reign if he can help it…but you’ll never get a straight answer out of a lawyer. Just look at his body language in this interview and in his state of the league. Devious fellow he is.

    One other point people miss. He can’t afford for league revenues to grow so fast it prices small revenue teams out of the league (Phoenix, Florida, Atlanta, Nashville) so it’s to his advantage not to put another team in GTA for that reason (and so he does not hack off his most important benefactor).

  12. “I certainly agree that 15 years ago we were in serious trouble with most of the franchises in canada but that was more due to the fact that our Canadian dollar was trading at like 66 cents and we had to pay the players in American dollars. ”

    So shouldn’t the goal be to have franchises that are stable regardless of the value of the dollar (yes, I’m aware that, at one point, that list read “Toronto” and nothing further) ? Are we going to keep ping-ponging teams between tiny Canadian markets (which won’t add too much to the bottom line since there’s not going to be much in the way of TV money added to the pot with those two) and mediocre US ones depending on the value of the Canadian dollar?

    I don’t think Phoenix should be there (largely because they were idiots and built an arena where no one wanted to drive 40 times a season; ARENAS AREN’T FOOTBALL STADIUMS! THEY DON’T BELONG IN THE BURBS!), but I’m ambivalent towards Winnipeg and Quebec. Quebec especially, but Winnipeg’s problematic.

    [Ottawa learnt that lesson.]

  13. [...] On Bettman/MacLean Posted by Jonathan WillisI wanted to comment further on a few things from the interview between Gary Bettman and Ron MacLean the other day. First off, Bettman complained about MacLean asking about franchise health during a great [...]

  14. I’m sorry but most of you people have absolutely no clue about the reality of big business or finance. Either that or you just can’t get over your misguided sense of patriotism and resentment that a New York lawyer is holding the reigns on “our” league.

    Hate on the guy all you want but if you look at any other pro sport league outside of the NFL (which may be facing a lockout next year), you will see that the NHL is in better shape than any of them. Basketball attendance has been dropping for years, Baseball is non-competitive; a near monopoly on championships by the Yankees, soccer is minor league in North America with revenues that are miniscule. Lacrosse had 2 good years and is now off the radar screen.

    Bettman brought in cost certainty thereby saving the futures of 75% of the teams in the league and providing an avenue through which Winnipeg just might get its team back, vastly improved franchise values thereby increasing their attractiveness as an investment and increasing the amount of operating capital available to teams (via loans), a national presence (albeit a modest one) in the US (by putting teams in every geographic region of the US) and; a vastly improved product (unless you enjoyed watching ice rugby for a decade).

    On the Jets and Quebec, they were doomed.
    Blame Bettman if you want but as I said previously, if the Thompson family cared so much about Canada in 1997; they could’ve bought the Jets and ate hundreds of millions in losses for the next 15 years. Some wealthy investors in Quebec could’ve done what they did in Calgary and formed a consortium to keep the Nords and lost money for 15 years.
    They didn’t and instead of just folding the teams, Bettman salvaged them and used them to help grow the game in regions where there was money, there was demand or there was a long term strategic goal to be advanced. Not bad if you ask me.

    On putting a team in the Golden Triangle, Bettman has a responsibility to the franchises that claim the region; obviously Toronto could stand the competition but what about Buffalo, New Jersey, Detroit and Long Island? You can’t just cut their throats because you think you see a prettier girl down the hall. Besides that, what’s the rush? 8 million potential hockey fans aren’t going anywhere and they’ll cheer for what’s available in the meantime. When the time is right, I have no doubt there will be another team in Ontario.

    As for dodging quesitons…why the hell wouldn’t he? Those questions were ill informed, mis-leading (handing in the keys?)hyperbolic garbage. But even so, an intelligent person came away from that interview with a much better grasp on the state of the NHL thanks to Bettman’s responses. Of course, you’d actually have to listen to him and think in order to get that.
    Who is Ron MacLean anyhow? Bettman doesn’t answer to him and he doesn’t answer to the fans. He is bang on in suggesting to MacLean that his role would be better served to hype the actual games that are being played, this playoffs has been one of the best in memory.
    Instead, MacLean tries to look like an investigative journalist and ambush Bettman with nonsense or didn’t you all notice how Ron backed down (because he knew he was talking out of his cornhole) on every single question he put to Bettman?

    The NHL isn’t a daycare and it isn’t the floor of the senate. Bettman answers to the owners and the board of govenors who; incidentally, renew his contract every time it comes up for discussion. If that doesn’t tell you something then nothing will.

    That’s my 2 cents and I don’t drink Kool Aid. But it is time for another beer. Cheers.

  15. Just the fact that you think that the NHL is in better shape than MLB and the NBA is telling…..Attendence figures for both of those are on par or better, they both have a FAR superior tv contract(s) better advertising revenues etc etc etc. Yes Bettman answers to the owners and he is doing a good job for them but to compare the viability and profitability of the NHL to the big 3 is just downright fu*kin laughable. And since when is Long Island and New Jersey in the Golden triangle??

  16. And before you come back on here noskillgill and give me a geography lesson then you must also include in your argument…Chicago, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, Ottawa, Montreal, New York Rangers and possibly Washington

  17. I’m no businessman but if both the long and short-term stabilities of multiple NHL franchises depend more on the various directions Lady Luck decides to push the lottery balls on draft day, rather than anything the people running those franchises or the league, then shit.

    Anyways. Even for somebody like me who only has a cursory understanding of league business, Bettman came across as a tool with that “great playoff hockey one-liner” of his. It’s a shame MacLean didn’t have the stones to take him down right then and there.

  18. I didn’t say that Long Island or NJ were in the Golden Triangle. The point was however that all of the teams I mentioned do have financial challenges to face and adding a team to the golden triangle could make those problems worse by taking away the fans that they do draw from the larger geographic area. I’m not going to belabour the point, if you can’t understand how it works; me explaining it won’t do any good.
    On the topic of tv contracts, you are right in that the NBA and MLB both have vastly superior revenues in that stream. I think that while the Versus contract is piddly, it’s better to be #1 on a small network than #5 on a major.
    Attendance has been trending down in the NBA for at least 5 years and baseball (outside of a handful of markets) is the same. Baseball’s larger problem again, is the lack of competitiveness from the vast majority of it’s clubs. There will always be support for the RedSox, Cardinals and Yankees but what about the rest of the league?
    Anyhow, the NHL will never compete with baseball in the US and probably can’t beat basketball either but; in business you do use ‘comps’ to measure success. And compared to any league outside of the NFL, the NHL’s %revenue growth is better.
    It seems like the basis for criticism Bettman is the presumption that someone else could’ve done better, I don’t see how that point can be argued. Context seems to be a difficult concept to grasp on this blog but,the NHL was dying when Bettman took over.
    Now, with the existence of the cap; small market teams can compete. Teams like Edmonton,Calgary and Ottawa were living on borrowed time before the cap and now; with good management (not luck) they can survive and possibly thrive.
    On the subject of Bettman’s one liner; while I would’ve loved to have seen a more open and frank discussion on the subject’; I don’t expect it so; I wasn’t disappointed with the information that Bettman was willing to share.
    I don’t see where Ron MacLean should be pushing any agenda other than “hockey is awesome and the product is the best in the world”. As lame as that sounds, it’s not MacLean’s job to do anything but that and, Bettman shouldn’t be attacked for failing to assist Ron in becoming the conscience of canadian hockey.

  19. So a second team in Toronto is going to affect the fan base and draw of teams in New Jersey and Long Island??
    Also the Other Big 3 don’t rely on the gate receipts for their major revenue stream, TV contracts, Advertising revenues, Merchandising etc etc etc are the major revenue streams and the difference between the NHL and the other is astronomical. So of course their growth is better because when your intake to begin with is so much smaller then any increase will be larger automatically. That makes that arguement moot as a 1% increase in the NBA is still larger than a 15% increase in the NHL.
    Also how is being the #1 on a network that reaches approx. 10-15% of the population better than being #5 on a network that reaches 85-90% of a population?

  20. We’re not talking about another team in Toronto, don’t kid yourself about that but I don’t know where the NHL would add another franchise. NJ and NYI are probably a bit of a stretch to include in the argument but the point remains, there are other interests that don’t really need the competition from another team.
    Gate receipts still lay the foundation of all other revenue streams, you’re mistaken if you think the NBA and MBL aren’t concerened about the attendance declines.
    On the subject of TV contracts, there’s only so much Bettman could do about it. You can’t force people from the states to care about hockey and the difference between being #1 on Versus over being #4 or 5 on ESPN is that the NHL found a partner that valued a relationship with them over one that tried to dictate it’s needs over the leagues.Versus wants and needs the NHL whereas ESPN didn’t care. If people want hockey, they can now find it and not have to worry about it getting bumped by PBA bowling or NASCAR.
    Point being, Bettman found a creative solution and got them on a network. It’s not necessarily a permanent solution but does present some possible upside to it while providing revenue that no other network was willing to dish out.

  21. If people want hockey , they can now find it and not have to worry about………………the point is they can’t find it. Versus is only available to 10-15% of all cable/sattelite subscribers in the United States, hell in Canada Versus is available on OLN. As for forcing people to watch then you can’t compliment Bettman on his “creative” TV contract while ignoring the fact that he was the driving force behind the aggresive and misguided expansion plans. He is still talking about Winnepeg, Quebec and the GTA as expansion locations not as re-location possibilities. I understand that he has to put on a happy face and say all is well but the fact is all is not well. Many teams are in trouble and many of the teams in trouble are in markets that probably should not have had franchises in the first place, that is Bettmans fault.
    Also, according to Forbes on Jan 13/09 the total worth of the big 4 is as follows…not counting soccer….
    NFL 2009 33.3 billion….1999 11.6 billion
    MLB 09 14.1 bil. 99 6.6 bil
    NBA 09 11.4 99 5.3
    NHL 09 6.6 bil 99 3.6 bil
    So according to Forbes anyway the nhl is bringing up the rear in terms of total league appreciation.
    The $ values of the TV contract for the NFL, NBA, and MLB is in the BILLIONS while the NHL is no where near that.
    And yes i trust an impartial source such as Forbes over the numbers put forth by any of the in house league sources.

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