I’ve been wondering since the start of the CBA negotiations why Bill Daly was the person speaking for the NHL. He’s never seemed like the ideal communicator from a PR perspective, as he occasionally comes off as condescending and can be overly blunt, flippant, or laughably obtuse at times. He’s been casually dismissive of the NHLPA and their offers, making it seem like the NHL as a whole is the same way. Frankly, I’ve felt that he often damages public perception of the NHL more than he improves it and I wondered why he was doing all the talking instead of Gary Bettman.
Then Bettman did an exclusive interview with the Winnipeg Free Press and it became eminently clear why he’s been staying out of the limelight. When he talks, ammunition for the players comes pouring out of his mouth.
For the most part, the interview is bog-standard rhetoric for Bettman. He reiterates the basic points that Daly has been saying throughout the negotiations, but there’s those few niggling phrases that illustrate exactly why Daly has been saying them.
He called people who labelled the NHL’s initial offer as insulting “naive,” whereas I prefer to call such people “realistic” and “clear-sighted.”
He claimed that the NHL’s revenue-sharing was comparable to that of baseball, a claim that was ripped to shreds by Greg Wyshinski, who asked, “Did Bettman really just serve up that beer-filled piñata to Donald Fehr?”
Just a few questions after saying he wouldn’t comment on the union and their tactics, he commented on the union and their tactics, saying, “The entire strategy appeared to be an attempt to maintain what the union had under the expired CBA, which is something they’re not entitled to.” Yeah, he dropped the word “entitled” in reference to the players, which will surely win him some fans in the NHLPA.
He disputed the idea that he asked for a two-week moratorium on CBA discussions by claiming that it happened in an unofficial “conversation” and not a negotiation, essentially admitting that he did, in fact, suggest a two-week break in discussions.
All of those ever-so-slight missteps will just reinforce in the minds of the players the view they already have of Bettman. But the phrase that sounded the most disingenuous and got the biggest reaction on twitter and the blogosphere was undoubtedly when he was asked how he felt about the players.
“I love the players,” he said, which comes off as completely unbelievable as well as tone deaf. There are many verbs he could have used instead that would have seemed at least a little more genuine: “respect,” “appreciate,” or even “admire.” Instead, he said “love.”
Well, Gary, the feeling isn’t mutual. The players have not been shy about hating Bettman, especially recently. Kris Versteeg called him a cancer, a metaphor that was roundly criticized as inappropriate, but, as Tyler Dellow pointed out, more than a little apt. Ian White avoided metaphors entirely and flat-out called him an idiot, which is much less accurate. Some Canadiens players have started wearing “Puck Gary” hats to practices, which is about as intelligent as it will be effective at ending the lockout.
Actions speak louder than words and Bettman hasn’t shown the players much love recently. Honestly, because Bettman attracts so much hate and vilification, the NHL should just keep him away from microphones and cameras until the lockout ends.
Don’t get me wrong: I actually think Bettman is pretty dang good at his job. I think Ryan Lambert did a solid job explaining exactly why Bettman has been a good commissioner for the NHL and that much of the hate directed his way should instead be aimed at the owners who are driving the lockout.
But Bettman is terrible at public relations. Being a commissioner of any major sport ensures a certain amount of hate heading your way, but Bettman seems to go out of his way to attract that hate. Since there’s essentially nothing he can say at this point that will get the players and fans on his side, he should just avoid talking to the media altogether.