NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman visited Nashville during the playoffs – watching Game 3 in person at Bridgestone Arena. NashvillePredators.com caught up with “The Commish” to talk about the state of the game, the state of the team and the excitement of the 2011 playoffs.
NP.com: When you look at the playoffs this season and the way things are going, how pleased are you to see several competitive, long series? When you look at the way things have been, what do you think of the quality of the actual hockey that is being played? Bettman: Well, I think the hockey that’s being played and how competitive and exciting it is, is a reflection of the state of the game; it’s a reflection of what we saw during the regular season. You don’t know on any given night who’s going to win, and the margins between team performance are razor thin. That’s why we’re seeing exciting series, so many overtime games and, most importantly, entertaining hockey.
NashvillePredators.com:What are your thoughts on the Nashville market, the way it’s growing and where it is right now? Commissioner Bettman: We have, since Day One, always believed that Nashville would be a great home for NHL hockey, and as we’ve seen over the last dozen or so years, the interest in the game has grown dramatically at all levels. The attendance continues to get stronger; there were 16 sellouts during the regular season. The fans are great. The atmosphere is terrific. The building is loud, but also, the Predators have been involved in grassroots programs; the increase in the number of high school hockey teams and the grassroots programs for kids throughout the year. Hockey is just growing everywhere.
NP.com:When you look at Nashville’s ownership situation, how much has that strengthened this team’s abilities to make an impact? Bettman: I think it’s clear that the ownership is in strong, local hands with people who are committed to making sure this franchise not only survives, which I don’t think there is any doubt of, but is successful. You’re seeing that across both the performance on the ice and the business performance of the club reflected in all the new sponsors and the attendance at the games.
NP.com:This season, the Predators made a couple of changes in the front office – mainly with Jeff Cogen and Sean Henry – can you talk about what they bring to the league? Bettman: They’ve been around this league for a number of years. They know the business of hockey, and I think they’ve been responsible for some of the terrific success this franchise has seen in the community.
NP.com:And at the same time, President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile has been with the franchise since Day One. What does he mean to the Preds organization and to your relationship with the organization? Bettman: David Poile has an outstanding track record of success and consistency. I think the Predators are one of only four teams in the last six years to win 40 or more games in each of those years. He’s been the only general manager this team has ever had. He’s had a coach who’s the only coach, Barry Trotz, this team has ever had. Something like 15 of your 23 players are players that have been drafted and developed through the organization. David is the consummate professional, and he has brought a level of professionalism and stability to this franchise that has yielded the success and results that were seen.
NP.com:The league just announced a new television deal to remain on NBC and VERSUS in the United States. What does that mean for our fans and their viewership? Bettman: I think, perhaps, more so than ever in the history of the NHL in the United States, we now have the most significant media arrangement that we’ve ever had – not just financially, but in terms of all of the platforms that the NBC sports group, which is the result of the merger of NBC, Universal and Comcast, can bring. There are 20 different networks that they have, which will be promoting NHL hockey in addition to Versus, which will be renamed. There are 43 digital platforms, and all of these assets and resources are committed for a decade going forward to promoting the game and covering NHL hockey.
NP.com: How have NBC and Versus helped grow the game? Bettman: Well, in terms of viewership and the attention that we get and the promotion that we get, I think it’s as good as its ever been. The numbers that we’re seeing this past season, whether or not it’s for special events like the Winter Classic or regular season and playoff games, they’re at levels that exceed what we used to do back before we were on Versus and NBC, when we were on ESPN. The fact that we were able to command such interest in the marketplace is a reflection of, one, the game on the ice but, two, the treatment that we’ve gotten as a broadcast and media property for the last six years.
NP.com:Bridgestone, another league partner, one based here in middle Tennessee, has stepped into a more prominent relationship with the league both at the local and national level. What type of a partner are they for they the league and how has that relationship grown? Bettman: I’m loving that Bridgestone is a League sponsor, one of our biggest, and the naming partner of this arena because they’ve shown tremendous commitment to sports, in general, but, in particular, hockey and as well to Nashville, where it’s based in North America. It’s a great company run by terrific people – very well managed, a very prominent brand – and I think it’s great that we get to associate our brand of NHL Hockey to Bridgestone’s brand. Perhaps as important as anything else, the fact that they’ve wanted to put their name on this area is terrific to show what great citizens they are of Nashville.