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Bettman on outdoor games, expansion, more

NHL.com @NHL

LOS ANGELES -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the media Wednesday in a 20-minute press conference at Staples Center prior to the game between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.

Here are his opening remarks and a transcript of the question and answer session:

"I'm not here to break any news. I'm here to watch the Kings and their fans celebrate their well-deserved honor and hard-fought championship. It seems like we were just here. The offseason I guess goes quickly when you're in a place that's won the Cup and had a long, long playoff run.

"I think it's fair to say that we start this season with great anticipation. There's a lot of excitement. There's a lot of buzz. And that's probably because we're coming off what people think was the best season we've ever had. Think in terms of the artistry, competitiveness, excitement and entertainment of the game, and it was our best season off the ice as well. We anticipate more and even better.

"The League is in an incredible place as it relates to stability whether it's long-term agreements with our players or our national broadcasters, or whether it's the fact that our franchises from an ownership standpoint have never been more stable. We think the vital signs are not only good, they're terrific. That's great news for people who are passionate about the game, who are fans of the game, and are following us on a daily basis in more ways than ever before.

"I'll give you the shameless plug for the new app, which is terrific and I urge you to take a look at it if you haven't.

"Also as we gather here tonight in anticipation of the [Stanley Cup championship] banner raising, to think about hockey at all levels, but particularly the NHL in Southern California and Northern California, California as a whole, is incredible. The Kings have great rivalries with the Ducks and the Sharks. Certainly last year's playoff series with the Sharks cemented it even further. We're going to play an outdoor game up in Sharks territory in February and they're going to play the Kings again. When we look at what's going on throughout the game at all levels, the number of young people playing the game, and there's even a guy named [Brandon] Kozun, an L.A. native, who got an assist tonight in a game up in Toronto, hockey in Southern California and Northern California is alive and well.

"We're anticipating another successful, strong season and we're excited that we finally get to drop the puck tonight.

On how much of the League's success last season comes from having the Stanley Cup champions in the second largest media market in the United States:

"Market size, particularly when you're dealing with major media markets, has an impact in terms of gathering attention. But I got asked that question when I did the media avail before the Stanley Cup Final started and it's frankly more important what's taking place on the ice. You can have the biggest markets in the world, but if the game isn't exciting, compelling and competitive it's not going to generate a lot of interest. The Kings, for example, had a magical, spectacular run in last year's playoffs, and I think that was as important, if not more, than it was taking place with a team based in Los Angeles.

"It's interesting, we talk about competitiveness and competitive balance, and you see it. As the season starts most of the prognostications I'm seeing are all over the place as to who is going to make the playoffs and who is going to win the Cup. Nobody knows, but there aren't a whole lot of teams that are out of the conversation. That's one of the things we think is paramount about our system."

On if the Kings' success will give Los Angeles a chance to host more large-scale events:

"There's no question that this organization, AEG, the Kings and Los Angeles can host major events. What we did, what the Kings did, in Dodger Stadium with the Ducks was captivating. I remember being here that weekend and the Grammys were taking place, and a variety of other things, and nothing was getting the attention that the game at Dodger Stadium got. But we do have 30 clubs and they all want everything, so we have to spread it around a bit. There's no question that the Kings have been, are, and can be great hosts for any major events."

On the Commissioner saying it was no accident that the Sharks were scheduled to open the season in Los Angeles, and if the Sharks could have balked at that:

"First of all, to take the literal language that this was no accident, the other side of that is when the schedule maker does the schedule he doesn't have a big board and throw darts. He actually plans out what makes sense in terms of building availability, the number of times teams are playing each other, matchups that demonstrate rivalries that are good for television. This is a tremendous rivalry, made only stronger in last year's playoffs, and we thought this would be a great way to start the season. We have final control over the schedule. It's not a process that lends itself to democracy."

On if he got any pushback from the Sharks about having to open in L.A. after what happened in the playoffs last season:

"No. My understanding is they're not going to be watching the ceremony anyway. And what typically happens if you go back and look at the history, and we'll see if it happens tonight, the home team hoisting the banner tends to come out a little distracted in the first period and the question then is whether or not they recover. Although I think when you have a team that's won it recently that's probably less of a factor. They know the drill. They've been there. It's fresh in their minds. So I'm hoping to have an exciting, competitive game tonight."

On rumors that Chris Pronger could potentially be involved in discussions with the NHL about a job in the Department of Player Safety, and if there are cap issues to deal with because he is still being paid by the Philadelphia Flyers:

"Two things in that: One, I'm not going to confirm that Chris is in fact a candidate. I know it's a rumor. Stephane Quintal is interviewing a number of former players that he thinks might want to work with him in the Department of Player Safety. Chris's case is unique. There are salary cap reasons why he couldn't officially retire. But the fact of the matter is if in fact we go in that route I'm not sure that presents any problem at all that we can deal with. He's done playing, and he gets paid no matter what from the Flyers. He doesn't owe them anything."

On if it's good for hockey to have teams like the Kings and Chicago Blackhawks being dominant and representing four of the past five Stanley Cup championships:

"It's fascinating. If you go back the last few years we see lots of clubs making the playoffs. I think five of the clubs that made the playoffs last year didn't make it the year before. I think that's been true or close to true over the prior few years. Then when we have great competitive balance people say, 'Well you have no dynasties.' It's interesting that between the Blackhawks and the Kings that's four out of the last five, but the margins are so close. What the Kings did last year when you think about it and reflect on four series it's amazing they got out of some of the series that they did, whether it was against the Sharks or even against the Blackhawks. The fact is it is what it is. What we really look to see is is the League competitive? There's no question about that. Are the games unpredictable? There are lots of come from behind wins, games getting tied in the last period, teams going on to win. That I think tells the best story. Whether or not some teams have more grit, better chemistry or more luck or more skill it's still within the parameters. I think that makes for great storytelling and great interest for our fans."

On having two outdoor games this season as opposed to having six last season, and what the right number of outdoor games in a season might be:

"It's interesting. Last year, like NHL Revealed, was a season like no other, as the name went. But the fact is last year was unique for a whole host of reasons. It was our first full year back, we had the Olympics, and we wanted to have a number of major events to promote going in and out of the Olympics, and it worked very well. But the outdoor game, in addition to being coveted by teams and fans that want it, it's gotten to be such a big deal that what we're hearing from our teams is they want more lead time. So we're talking to our clubs about hosting, but they're going to want it announced in the middle of this season so they have a much longer time to ramp up to take full advantage of the event, because as we all know from being here at the Dodger game, it can actually take over a market, a fan base, a city and really impact it. So clubs want to make a bigger deal out of it. Two isn't necessarily the right number. Six isn't the right number. It's probably going to be somewhere in between."

On why the outdoor games draw so many more fans and viewers than a regular game:

"It's unique. It's special. It captivates the imagination. It takes people, particularly players, back to the roots where they first learned and played the game in many instances. It's the ultimate reality show. I mean, sports is the reality show because you don't know what's going to happen, and it's live, and it's real, and then we throw in the elements. This year when we play in San Jose, who ever thought of playing outdoors in Northern California, like we did last year [in Southern California]. And we're going to do it in front of 70,000 people, which is different in terms of the experience as well, not just tailgating but the notion that that many people are going to gather together to watch a hockey game. It's just fun, and that's why we do it."

On anticipating having more outdoor games on the west coast because they have the refrigeration issues sorted out:

"I think there are probably still a couple places where we wouldn't dare try it. I'm not sure South Florida ever gets cool enough with great predictability to ever do it. But yeah, we've now figured out that we can push the limits a little bit. That's a testament to Dan Craig. As I said last year before and immediately after the game at Dodger Stadium, I only asked him 10,000 times over the span of a year, 'Are you sure you can do this?' There was no question. But again, there is a huge demand for these. Now in terms of games in California it's not about the elements, we think we can deal with that, it's about making sure we move this around and satisfy the interest that we're getting on a continent-wide basis."

On comparing the NBA's new nine-year, $24 billion television contract in the United States to the NHL's current 10-year contract with NBC that is reportedly worth $2 billion:

"No. You have to remember what the market was when we did it. For us, the deal we have was transformational. It was the first time that we had one partner that did everything. And it was the first time, among other things, in addition to Wednesday Night Rivalry night, that we had all games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on national TV. At the time people were hailing it as a terrific deal. The fact of the matter is we more than doubled our rights, and based on what's happening in the marketplace, the next time we go into the marketplace I'm sure we'll do quite well. We're not on the same cycle. There are plenty of deals that have been made prior to this one. But I always said to our owners that if we get to the end of our deal and we're being underpaid, that's a really good thing."

On an update for future international competition, including a potential remake of the World Cup and bringing back the NHL Premiere Games in Europe:

"We're first focused on the possibility of the World Cup. Our view is if we can put the pieces together, and jointly we do this with the Players' Association, and get the World Cup laid out on a regular basis from a timing standpoint then a lot of pieces to the puzzle will fall in behind that, including exhibition, regular season games and other international competitions. But we're still working with the Players' Association on the fundamentals of a World Cup."

On if the NFL's experience with domestic violence has prompted any discussions within the NHL about a new policy:

"That's something we've been doing with the Players' Association for more than a decade. We as a league have more than enough authority and mechanisms to punish, if necessary, in the appropriate case. Fortunately we haven't seen too many. But more importantly we focus on counseling and education, and in the joint programs we have with the Players' Association we've been counseling and educating on domestic violence for more than a decade, I don't remember the exact date. The security department does it in their annual meetings with each team, and the behavioral counselors from the substance abuse, behavioral health program also counsel and educate the players on those and many other issues. So I'm not sure for us there is any need for any code of conduct other than our players, who overwhelming conduct themselves magnificently off the ice -- we deal with it on a case by case basis. I don't think we need to formalize anything more. Our players know what's right and wrong, and as I said, we have the mechanisms in place to hopefully not get to that point."

On if the League is considering expansion:

"We're getting lots of expressions of interest. You and your colleagues seem more fascinated by it than I am or the governors are. You don't make an important business decision just for purposes of symmetry. Deciding to expand, if it happens, will be a major transaction that has major impact. We're going to continue to listen to expressions of interest, and that's gratifying that we're getting them, but we're not ready to go through a formal expansion project. We're just coming off our best season ever. That's good, let's run that for a little bit."

On if the price of expansion has gone up:

"I think what you're seeing in sports is the value of all franchises in all four major sports is going up. From where I sit, I don't see that as a bad thing."

On how much an expansion team would cost:

"I don't know. That would require us to have undertaken a more diligent process relative to expansion than we've taken to effect right now. If I came in and said to you, which I wouldn't because we didn't, the price would be X, you would be saying to yourself, 'Gee, they must have thought about this.' But we don't have a price.

"When that article came out in late August, which was based on nothing and was a little irritating because I was on vacation and had to spend three hours dealing with debunking the rumors, I said the worst part of that article is they valued the franchises too low. That article said there would be four franchises I think for $1.3 billion. That's way too low. I don't know what the number is, but it's more than that. I can do greater than, less than."

On what else he wants to see the League do in the next few years to expand the fan base in the United States:

"First of all, the fact that hockey in the United States is doing great at the grassroots level with more young people than ever before, boys and girls, is terrific. We work very closely with USA Hockey as we do with Hockey Canada, and we want to keep that going. What we do from a media standpoint is we have great partners in NBC and Rogers and they're doing more than has ever been done in the production, coverage, marketing, promotion of the game. And in the digital space, whether it's social media or the app I plugged early on, the fact of the matter is there are more ways, more content being created that fans can connect to, which will give people a more lively experience. Throw in more special events like the outdoor games and throw in more international -- without diminishing anything we're doing here we know there is a lot of interest in the game worldwide and we're going to look to satisfy that in increasing ways as well. I think we're seeing more and more and more."

On if there is an update on the NHL's future participation in the Olympics:

"No. We have meetings scheduled with the IIHF, but it has nothing to do with the Olympics. It might have something to do with some other events, but it has nothing to do with the Olympics. No, we haven't been focused on the Olympics. We came back from Sochi and we focused on the end of the regular season and our playoffs. It just hasn't been something that has gotten our attention right now. And they seem to be having some issues as candidates, at least for 2022, seem to be deciding maybe it's not such a good idea."

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