Bettman Is Worse

Believe me – I’m not trying to get into the position of defending Bud Selig. By all indications, he’s a nerdy little weasel who deserves neither praise nor pity (I mean, just look at him).

But there is another – someone whose damage to his sport has actually changed the phrase Big Four to Big Three…someone who picked up an ace, two face cards and two sixes, and decided to build around the sixes…someone who decided to hurt the defenseless country of Canada like it had raped his mother. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Gary Bruce Bettman.

First, a few caveats. Number one, I am a big sports fan, but not particularly enamored of baseball or hockey. I’m better versed in baseball and its history, but would rather listen to Ira Glass and Teri Gross discuss revenue enhancements and deficit reduction than sit down and actively watch an entire game. And a hockey game looks to me like a bunch of speed freaks rushing around until one of them gets lucky and half of them throw their arms in the air. But I’ll admit that they’re probably the two best sports to see live, they have a passionate fan base, and they both play an important part in the cultural history of their respective cultures. I certainly have no desire to see them irreparably damaged.

Secondly, being a commissioner is one of those thankless jobs that is harder than it seems. The very nature of the job seems unlikely to attract the best and the brightest. You’re basically a mid-level executive required to be a mixture of P.R. spokesman and bureaucratic flunky to a bunch of egomaniacs. In my lifetime, only two commissioners have provably done a great job. Pete Rozelle facilitated the AFL merger, helped build the first workable model of significant revenue sharing, and guided his league’s TV presence so masterfully that it supplanted baseball as America’s Pastime. David Stern seems obviously smarter than his position, but has used his abilities to turn basketball from a sport that was showing its Finals tape-delayed into arguably the second biggest league in the U.S., with the largest international presence. He was able to turn an immutable fact about his athletes (that they’re way blacker than the average middle-aged suburban sports fan, with the perception of being angry, loud and lazy that inevitably comes along with it) from a huge deficit to a way to hook in the next generation of sports fans.

And finally, both baseball and hockey have faced huge inherent problems that have nothing to do with their horrible commissioners. Both are difficult for kids to play for fun. Hockey is expensive, and requires booking ice time. Baseball has Little League, but that anal-retentive Nazi exercise turns off more kids than it entrances. And it’s next to impossible to get enough kids together for a pickup game in today’s spread-out suburbs and torn-up cities, especially as compared to basketball where two people can approximate a game. Not unrelatedly, both sports have very few African-American players and fans. Both have the difficulty of marketing foreign players, many of whom have rudimentary English at best (in fairness, this is much worse for hockey, which has Eastern Europeans; I’m sure baseball is very happy to have inroads into the growing pool of Hispanic immigrants). This is offset by the fact that baseball video games suck completely. Both are horrible television sports…hockey because it’s hard to follow, baseball because it’s so goddamn slow.

But if you isolate the damage that Selig and Bettman have done, Selig wins the only contest he could possibly win (except most likely to turn your experimenting cousin into a full-fledged lesbian). Both cancelled a championship, the World Series in 1994 and the Stanley Cup in 2005. You could say that Bettman did it because hockey was in genuine crisis and that Selig did it because greedy owners (of which he is one) wanted more money. And you’d be right – if you forgot that Bettman caused the crisis.

Let’s pretend that The Dilemma was a mild-mannered Canadian instead of pile of seething bile from Conneticut (who pretends to be from New York to hide the shame), and that he fell asleep on New Year’s Day 1993:

THE DILEMMA

So, this is 2009, huh…chicks have gotten sluttier, eh? Where’s the remote…I need my hockey fix.

MODERN HOCKEY FAN

Sorry, hoser, but this TV doesn’t have cable. Most games are on Versus, which is a cable channel.

THE DILEMMA

Must be a major one, eh? When I fell asleep, Gretz, Lemeiux and Roy were bringing the NHL to new heights. And we just stole David Stern’s marketing genius to finally give us some leadership. Are we bigger than baseball yet?

MODERN HOCKEY FAN

Umm, it’s pretty big…they have America’s Cup AND Ivy League Football. The good news is that baseball has had alot of trouble.

THE DILEMMA

I knew it, heheheh.

MODERN HOCKEY FAN

But…I don’t know how to tell you this…it looks like David Stern pulled a fast one on us. Television-wise, we’re on this piddling cable channel for $72 million a year…by comparision, MLB gets around $400 dollars a year, and are on a network. We do get to have some games on NBC…unfortunately, they draw around a 0.8, which is about 1/3 lower than the Women’s NBA. Baseball’s around a 2.0.

THE DILEMMA

Women’s NBA? Fuck, that sounds hot.

MODERN HOCKEY FAN

Oh, it is, my friend, it is. There is some good news…average NHL attendance is up about 3,000 since you fell asleep.

THE DILEMMA

Whoo…

MODERN HOCKEY FAN

Of course, it’s still about half of baseball, which has twice as many games.

THE DILEMMA

Oh…well I trust that they ran Mr. Bettman out on rail when it became apparent how bad he was. Any chance of catching my beloved Nordiques tonight?

MODERN HOCKEY FAN

Maybe it’s time to go back to sleep.

And that’s really the crux of the argument, the reason why Bettman has to be considered worse than Selig. Selig might be a money-grubbing incompetent, making only decisions that line the pockets of himself and his cabal. Besides the 1994 World Series, the biggest thing he’s done to tarnish the character of baseball is turning a blind eye to steroids. I guess it’s possible to imagine a commissioner with enough strength and foresight to work against developments that brought much needed attention and money to their sport, without any solid proof of malfeasance…but not really. For Selig to have gone after McGwire, Sosa, et al, in their primes would have gone against not only his owners financial interests, but the story line the media was selling, the players union, the excitement of the fans. He’s certainly culpable, but no more so than many others, including every single baseball fan. Gary Bettman, however, ripped the heart out of hockey, in pursuit of a pipe dream that was never going to happen. Whereas David Stern used the gift of Michael Jordan to do his best to expand the NBA’s reach while also solidifying its base (and saved his destructive work stoppage for the year after Jordan’s retirement, when the NBA was going to take a hit no matter what), Bettman learned entirely the wrong lessons from the Wayne Gretzky story. He’s in L.A., Bettman thought, so let’s put a team in every warm weather city. He wanted so badly to be the next NBA that he pissed all over the NHL’s biggest asset – the dedicated northern fan base. Hartford became Carolina, Quebec became Colorado, Minnesota became Dallas, Winnipeg became Phoenix; Anaheim, Atlanta, Nashville and Florida were added.

But, whatever…they both suck.
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2 Comments

Filed under David Simon Cowell, Sports Has AIDS

2 responses to “Bettman Is Worse

  1. Pingback: Commissioner Cage Match: Checking In on the Cretins in Charge of our Sports | Pop Culture Has AIDS

  2. Musky Canadian Scent

    The only cathartic release I get with Bettman is hearing whatever congratulatory bullshit he is spewing to the latest winner of the Cup/All-Star Game/whathaveyou completely drowned out by a chorus of boos from the spectators. Hooray for live TV.

    You also neglect to mention the absolute clusterfuck that was the battle over the Phoenix Coyotes. Let’s see: crazy rich potential owner who loves hockey and wants to move a bankrupt team from the desert to the biggest hockey market in the world, making it worth $450 million in the process and thus pushing up franchise values league-wide. Let’s fight that tooth and nail because Bettman thinks that he’s a poopie-head. That’s some good leadership there. Let’s get behind that winner! Jackass.

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