Cornell University

November 15 2007

NHL Commissioner talks hockey with Cornell students

Gary Bettman ’74 visits the ILR School

“Nothing is more important than the relationships with your players”. This was a prevailing theme in NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s discussion with Cornell students and faculty during his visit to the ILR School November 10.

Gary Bettman, front row, third from left, with ILR Faculty, Staff and StudentsBettman, whose appearance was sponsored by Cornell’s ILR Sports Management Club, graduated from the ILR School in 1974. He discussed his path from Cornell to the National Hockey League as well as the nature of labor relations in professional sports.

After graduating from Cornell, Bettman went to law school at New York University (NYU) and worked for a law firm in New York City. He went to work for the National Basketball Association in the early 1980s at “a time when sports business was in its infancy”. He served as general counsel and was instrumental in implementing the salary cap currently used by the NBA.

In 1993, he was elected commissioner of the NHL and led the league through two work stoppages. He oversaw the restructuring of the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement to include a salary cap. The cap, he said, allows smaller-market teams to keep their best players and has led to improved competition throughout the league. In his opinion, “caps…are the only way to do it.” 

The Q&A session that followed his presentation included a lengthy discussion about NHL policies, some of the issues currently facing the league, and what the future holds for professional hockey.

Bettman talked about his controversial decision to sign a television contract with the Versus network. Although he was criticized for this deal due to the public’s lack of familiarity with the network, Bettman maintains that the network has been growing steadily and will continue to grow, and that he made the right choice. He also pointed out the NHL’s creative use of other media outlets, particularly the internet, making it possible for fans to watch games, get highlights, and track their favorite teams.

Bettman said it is possible collective bargaining talks will be re-opened in 2008. He noted that the league has set revenue and attendance records every year since the 2004 lockout and is on pace to set a new record this season. The NHL may face some challenges ahead, but, he added, “the future has never been brighter.”