So I’m reading this article via the Canadian Press about how the National Hockey League is pressing against the passage of Bill C-290, which would “make it lawful for the government of a province, or a person or entity licensed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council of that province, to conduct and manage a lottery scheme in the province that involves betting on a race or fight or on a single sport event or athletic contest.”
The bill has been sent to the Canadian Senate, apparently. I don’t really care about whether sports betting his legal, but I’m dumbfounded by the NHL’s reaction to the bill. It’s easy to share their concern for match-fixing, or that the potential outcome of a game would be affected, but I don’t think that the people who participate in match-fixing scandals do so because there’s a legal way to make money on the game.
“If single-game sports betting becomes a publicly fostered and sponsored institution, then the very nature of sports in North America (including in the National Hockey League) will change, and we fear it will be changed for the worse.”
I think I’ve been over it before, but the NHL has a money problem, and it had nothing to do with the fans, or the nature of the sport. Rather, it’s the nature of sports leagues, who, at some point in the 1980s, decided that they wanted to make a whole pile of money.
The NHL was a 21-team team through the 80s, but it wasn’t good enough for the guys running the league. John Ziegler oversaw an expansion without regard to the quality of the market, based simply off whether or not the prospective owners had enough money to pay the overpriced $50M expansion fee.
The owners then brought in Gary Bettman with the intent of modernizing hockey and bringing it to the level of basketball, baseball and football. Expansion, along with a dependency on sponsors and TV, simply priced a lot of fans out of the game in some of the league’s key markets.
Check out this intro to the 1995 playoffs on Fox. I’m not sure this is what original professional hockey players had in mind:
None of that came from fans and betting. The very nature of sports in North America aren’t at risk because the Canadian government want to legalize betting on single sports games. I think that that train has left the station.
Meanwhile, Paul Beeston of the Toronto Blue Jays had this to say:
“When gambling is permitted on team sports, winning the bet may become more important than winning the game; the point spread or the number of runs scored may overshadow the game’s outcome and the intricacies of play,”
I think an comparison in this case would be Fantasy Football. Depending on how you look at Fantasy Football, it requires fans to root against their home teams each week. This has no effect on the play, of course, and the very nature of football has not been compromised by the spectre of fans taking on a secondary interest in the game.
In fact, the league-controlled NFL Network reportedly went into a five-year, $600M deal with Sprint. The first banner on the league’s official website directs fans to the “fantasy” portion of the websites, that offers both free and paid leagues.
All of the NFL’s extras just bring in a huge portion of extra revenue and interest. It gets to the point where there’s just too much money on the line if the NFL was going to lose any games due to a lockout. Despite a tense labour situation last year, the NFL lost a single game—the Hall of Fame game, the first game of the exhibition season—before the sides reconciled.
If the NHL really wants to prevent single-game betting, it can continue along the current course. Nobody, not even socially, can bet on NHL hockey games right now, regardless of what legislation has passed or not.