Columbus’ ability to host major sporting events is not the least bit surprising to Gary Bettman.
The NHL commissioner for over two decades, Bettman has long been a proponent of the city as a major-league franchise and he strongly believed that the Blue Jackets would be a central part of Columbus’ pro sports culture.
Speaking at the 11th annual Morning Sports Report hosted by the Greater Columbus Sports Commission on Thursday, Bettman said he was encouraged by and excited about not only the Blue Jackets’ future, but the sports picture in Columbus – though it’s what he expected all along.
“We know that this is a city that’s used to hosting major athletic events, and the ability of this city to provide the facilities, the Convention Center, Nationwide Arena, the Arena District,” Bettman said. “We know that the support this club has will be magnified by the fact that this city can host major events.
“I always believed that this franchise would have a prominent place on the Columbus sports landscape. Everybody, particularly in this digital age, wants to see results immediately, but the franchise is clearly on the right track and its best days are ahead. My belief is the franchise is stronger than it has ever been.”
The 2013-14 season was the best in the Blue Jackets’ 14-year history, and with league revenues at record highs and attendance steadily climbing throughout the NHL, Bettman said this is as strong as hockey and the league has ever been.
But as Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson said during the players’ interview session, their success last season has raised the bar even higher.
“The goal isn’t just to make the playoffs here,” Johnson said. “Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. There were good intentions here in the past, but we go into every game now with the expectation to win. We expect to play well, and we expect to achieve success.”
Bettman paid close attention the Blue Jackets’ run to the playoffs last spring, and like many others, fondly remembers the electric atmosphere both inside Nationwide Arena and throughout the city. Boone Jenner said it was “without question, the loudest building (he’s) ever played in” and Bettman agreed, saying there was a palpable excitement around the team.
Count the commissioner among those who believe the Blue Jackets are only scraping the surface of what they can accomplish in the years ahead.
“To me, the best part of what happened (in Columbus) last spring is that the fans in Columbus got a taste of the incredible excitement that NHL hockey can be when a team is at a high level competitively,” Bettman said. “The Blue Jackets, under JD and Jarmo, have made great strides and it’s clear that with the core they’ve put together, this team is built for the long run. Great days are ahead for Columbus Blue Jackets fans; it’s probably not a coincidence – or maybe it is – that their best year parallels the league’s best year.
“We’ve always believed in this market, we believed that Columbus would host the NHL family in spectacular fashion, and there’s no question – particularly at an event like this where you see the prominence of sports and big events in Columbus – we knew it would be great here. The fact that the team’s fortunes are improving is a happy coincidence.”