Hayden Goethe, Published March 01 2010
Goethe: Bettman should stick to Olympics in 2014Whether Canada or the United States won in the men’s hockey final Sunday, the biggest winner at these Olympic Games is the sport of hockey as a whole.
The state of pro hockey was in need of a boost. And that’s just what it got over the last week, starting with USA’s 5-3 win over Canada in the preliminary round last Sunday.
The National Hockey League couldn’t be less of a factor in markets like Fargo-Moorhead and others like it across the country. The TV package struck with Versus – then called the Outdoor Life Network – has shielded the league from the mainstream consciousness.
Versus isn’t available on a number of basic cable outlets, and those it does appear on often have the channel buried within the depths of its listings. And Versus is not available on DirecTV, as the satellite provider and the network remain at odds without a programming contract in place.
“A lot of people don’t even realize that Versus exists,” Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz told the Chicago Tribune last year. “You just have to grin and bear it. It’s a league-mandated decision.”
The reason the NHL turned to Versus rather than the league’s previous broadcaster ESPN was because of guaranteed money.
But what the NHL gained in cash up front, it lost in exposure.
The NHL’s agreement to place its rights on Versus happened under the watchful eye of commissioner Gary Bettman, who finds himself at center ice once again.
Many wonder whether or not Bettman will allow NHL players to compete in the 2014 Olympics. The commissioner has dodged the issue thus far, saying a decision has not been made yet.
I’m sure Bettman’s thinking the NHL isn’t making money off the Olympics. Sure, it’s good exposure, but he could set up an event similar to what baseball has with the World Baseball Classic and make money for the league.
Problem is, the NHL needs the Olympics more than vice versa. And an NHL world classic wouldn’t generate near the revenues that the Olympics make off of men’s hockey.
So what will Bettman do this time? When it came to TV rights, he chose fast money rather than the financial benefits that national exposure would have provided his league.
Will he opt for that again? Or will he make sure his league doesn’t continue to lose its grip on the national sports landscape?
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Hayden Goethe at (701) 241-5558