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At NHL meeting, officials weigh economic concerns @NHLdotcom

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -A banker and an economist spoke at the NHL's board of governors meeting Tuesday, helping owners and executives assess the financial landscape.

"Nicknamed Dr. Doom and Gloom, I think, after hearing it," said Richard Peddie, chief executive of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was not so bleak, pointing to both "a lot of uncertainty" and "cautious optimism." Ticket sales and television ratings are mostly up this season, he said, but the league will monitor playoff ticket sales for an indication of possible problems.

"The economists were very forthcoming with respect to the fact they see some negative signs for the economy as a whole," Bettman said. "They don't know, and they'll be the first to tell you that. I think everybody is cautious and concerned about what may happen without knowing whether or not it will."

Tuesday's meeting, held at a luxury hotel in an affluent South Florida community, came on the same day the NFL announced it is cutting more than 10 percent of its headquarters staff, joining the NBA, NASCAR teams and the company that runs Major League Baseball's Internet division in announcing layoffs. Bettman said the NHL has not laid off staff in its headquarters, nor are there plans to do so.

"The clubs were cautious but upbeat with respect to next season," Bettman said. "We are expecting real revenue growth this year. I know some have accused me of being either Pollyannish or optimistic, this is based on a very real assessment from our clubs, in terms of how they're seeing their business as well."

Bettman said the league's salary cap will likely remain the same despite the economic downturn.

"We think for next year it's going to be somewhere around where it is - up a little, a million or two, down a little a million or two," he said. "It depends on some variables that we can't control. I don't expect it to be dramatically higher or dramatically lower. It'll be somewhere in its current ballpark."

On Monday, the managing partner of the Buffalo Sabres insisted his team is not for sale, but said there have been calls from interested parties. One day later, there were questions regarding the financial viability of the Phoenix Coyotes, who reportedly could lose millions this season.

"We've lost a lot of money over the last number of years and we're continuing to lose money," Phoenix Coyotes president Doug Moss said. "The good news is, the team is playing much better on the ice. Off the ice ... the indicators are really positive."

Moss would not reveal the number of Phoenix season ticket holders, saying his club has never released the figures. When pressed, he acknowledged the number is "too low."

"We don't like losing money. Nobody does. But we think we're heading in the right direction with this team," Moss said. "In Phoenix, where the housing market has been in a significant downturn for the last year or so, we're really happy where we are with attendance (up 1,100 a game) and support from the fans."

Detroit general manager Ken Holland said his club was "pretty happy" with the level of fan support for the Stanley Cup champions. The Red Wings, in the best of circumstances, vie for attention with the NFL, NBA, major league baseball and major college programs. Now, Holland said, fans have another big consideration - their pocketbooks.

"We're going into territory that nobody's really been in," Holland said. "So to say I've got a game plan, I don't know how anybody could have a game plan. You don't know from week to week what's going on. It appears it's going to take a long time to pull out of this."

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