Earlier in October at the NHL Offices, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took a moment to speak to NashvillePredators.com about the 2016 NHL® All-Star Game coming to Nashville in January, the growth of the Predators as a franchise, Nashville Assistant Coach Phil Housley’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and shared what trends and technology he thinks are affecting the NHL.
The only individual to ever hold the role of NHL Commissioner, Bettman has worked to broaden the League’s reach since his tenure began in 1993, including expanding to Nashville in 1998. In October of 2014, the Commissioner announced Music City as the host city for the NHL’s All-Star festivities from Jan. 30-31, 2016, an event that stands as another indicator of the Predators growth as a franchise both in the community and on the ice.
What do you think about Nashville as an NHL market and the city’s preparations for the 2016 NHL® All-Star Weekend?
Bettman: “I’ve been following the progress of the Nashville Predators since the day of the team’s inception. That Nashville has turned into a magnificent and enthusiastic hockey city has been nothing short of phenomenal. It’s a testament to the players, to management, and in particular the ownership group, which is being led by Tom Cigarran. The team is doing all the things that we think are important for a team to be putting down roots in a community and to be an important part of a community. We’re delighted, that at this point in time, particularly with the team so competitive, that we’re bringing our All-Star festivities and our celebration of the game to Nashville for the All-Star Game.”
In regard to League development, what’s been the most proud moment of your tenure?
Bettman: “I’m not the type of person that likes to reflect on what’s going on [just in the present]. I’m more focused on the opportunities that the future holds. But in the final analysis, if there’s one thing I think is really firing on all cylinders for the game right now, relates to the fact that our franchises have never been stronger and the competitive balance of our game is probably the best that it’s ever been, but also the best in all of professional sports.”
With the Predators progression as a franchise, is it time to call them a success story?
Bettman: “I’ve always believed they were a success story. The initial outpouring of enthusiasm and interest was great, and over time it’s continued to build. I think with Tom Cigarran’s leadership as chairman, the club, its connection to its fans, its importance in the marketplace and the team’s competitiveness, have actually gone to a new level. The ownership as a whole needs to be congratulated, and having [Predators General Manager] David Poile anchoring from the inception, how this team has developed and how competitive and exciting they’ve gotten, I think the best is yet to come, but the foundation is extraordinarily strong, and that’s a testament to everyone's hard work.”
Will an All-Star Weekend help get the Preds franchise to the next level?
Bettman: “I think it’s another touch point, it’ll be another extraordinary piece of the franchise’s history. Another memory for fans to remember and connect to the franchise. I think it’s just another step in the growing process - in the lore that will be the history of the Predators. That builds every year with each playoff success, with each season that shows continued improvement and success on the ice, all of that grows to make the franchise stronger.”
Has the development of social media and other digital platforms made the game better from a fan’s perspective?
Bettman: “Our game has never had better attendance, more widespread exposure. On traditional television, our ratings are the strongest they’ve ever been both locally and nationally, and the connection on digital platforms, whether it’s NHL.com or social media, has never been greater. There’s never been more fan engagement, both in terms of what fans can do and in terms of the number of fans we have.”
What have you seen from the early returns from 3-on-3 overtime and the coach’s challenge?
Bettman: “The response to 3-on-3 has been nothing short of phenomenal. It’s exciting, it’s entertaining, and I mean what I’m about to say in a good way, it’s chaos on ice. It’s been a lot of fun for everyone, and that’s been the feedback we’ve been getting from players and from fans, maybe a little less so from coaches, but that’s what always happens. The coach’s challenge is working exactly how we intended it. The fact is you don’t get the same degree of certainty that you get when you're reviewing whether the puck crossed the line and it’s a goal, but what it’s enabling the referees and linesmen to do is to make the better call. Give them a second look at something that was a controversial call and see if they can make it better.”
If I’m a fan coming to an NHL game five years from now, what kind of technological advancements should I expect to see?
Bettman: “For us, when a fan comes to a game, we want the in-arena experience to be first-rate, fans to be comfortable in the surroundings and for fans to enjoy the game presentation, but most importantly, for fans to be enjoying the best world-class sports that you can see, which is our game. Our players do extraordinary things; over time they’ve only gotten more skilled and faster, I think that’s taken the game to new heights. With respect to technology and the use of digital platforms, we continue to offer our fans unprecedented ways to connect to our game to get to games when they want, how they want and from where they want, and to get as much of the information surrounding the players and the games as possible. Our partnership with [MLB Advanced Media] is going to take that to an even newer and higher level.”
What has Phil Housley, set to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November, meant to the League?
Bettman: “Phil has been an extraordinary player, and member of the NHL family since he came into the League. I think it was in the early 1980s, when he came right out of South St. Paul High School. As an American-born defenseman, I think he leads in the categories of goals, assists and points. Even among all defenseman, I think he’s fourth overall in points. He’s had an extraordinary career both in the NHL and in international competition, representing the United States. There are probably few people as deserving as Phil for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.”
It’s likely that Predators players will be participating in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, what should Preds fans expect from that event?
Bettman: “The World Cup is the reintroduction of international competition that we’re conducting with the [National Hockey League] Players’ Association. This is a sport that has history and tradition in international competition and our players love representing their countries and our players come from more countries than any of the leagues hosted in North America. We are truly the most international sport, and the rivalries that are created by that international play are nothing short of phenomenal and we think it’s great to be working with the Players’ Association to be bringing back this wonderful event.”
Looking into the future, what’s the next big thing that the League is striving toward?
Bettman: “There’s never any one thing that a sports league needs to do, but we’ve got to keep the game exciting, vibrant and entertaining. We’ve got to make sure we’re connecting with our fans both in person and on television and using all of the technology that’s available. I think in the future you’ll be seeing more things like player and puck tracking and just more ways to get inside the game. International competition is going to be an exciting part of our future. It’s everything we’re doing at the grassroots level, and we’re just going to keep doing more of it.”