Is Bettman the Trump of Sports?

Closed borders, protectionism and a fear of external global organisations. Words associated with USA President Donald Trump and his policies but they can also be applied to Gary Bettman and the NHL.

The NHL has put a stop to games in Europe and any chance of its players going to the Olympics is now long gone. It is a string of decisions that seems in contrast to other sports in particular its North American rivals.

This week the MLB tied up its CBA and announced games to played in London in 2018 and 2019 as well as a game in Asia. The MLB has also been hosting events in London aimed at boosting the league’s exposure and the sport as well. Baseball has also been active in trying to put itself and softball back in the Olympics despite the games being in the middle of the season and is in stark contrast to the NHL’s approach. Meanwhile the NFL is continuing to host games in London and seeing its popularity to continue to rise.

Ice hockey is different in that it is approaching the expansion from a very different stand point. Whilst baseball is known in the UK and Europe it is nowhere near as popular or accessible as ice hockey. The NFL is the same. Ice hockey in the UK and Europe has a fan base that is loyal to its team and pays to see them. You may ask then why should the NHL worry about other leagues or sending its players to the Olympics? And should other leagues be faced with the NHL on its doorstep?

Its fair but it should worry about those things for the same reason the MLB and NFL are doing it. To grow its fan base and boost its income.

By turning inwards the NHL risks loosing out on hundreds of millions of dollars. Fans will stick to their own leagues and teams and spend their money there. With online services becoming more and more popular no sports league rely on casual views in the same way it used to. For example in the past the top leagues were shown either on terrestrial TV or alongside the most popular sports on paid satellite or cable. Now as more people more online that exposure is not there and that service is taken up by apps like Gamecenter. However to sign up for such a service and part with money fans need to know the league and teams and this is done by looking outwards and promoting its teams and players outside the usual markets.

Come next February the headlines when the puck drops in Korea for the Olympics will be why the NHL is not there and where the players that are playing have come from. It will not happen overnight but with the NHL adopting an inward approach new fans to sport will be less aware of the NHL its history and traditions. Thankfully hockey at all levels is enjoyable and a fantastic sport to watch.

Neil Tucker

Neil has written on ice hockey for many websites concentrating on British ice hockey mostly. Neil also covers ice hockey in other countries and organises his Blueliner Hockey Tour. A graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University Neil turned his hand to hockey writing in 2009. As well as contributing on Blueliner Hockey Neil has contributed to Get Real Hockey and Slapshot Magasine.

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