NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in the Business Week Power 100

Earlier in the week, Business Week went live with one of those regular features that American magazines seem to love -- a power list. In this case, it's The Power 100 list of the most powerful people in the world of sports.

The top five consists of Tiger Woods, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NBA Commissioner David Stern, ESPN's George Bodenheimer and Dick Ebersol of NBC Sports. And popping up at #21 is NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Features like this one aren't known to be terribly hard-hitting, and Bettman's profile is something of a big wet kiss. When dealing with the NHL lockout, the piece by Geoff Gloekcer says that Bettman earned his place on the list by "taking on the baddest boys in sports," something that I'm not sure will endear Bettman any further to the men who actually play the game.

And don't look to Business Week for any other point of view on Bettman's tenure, as Gloecker didn't seem to speak to anyone outside of the manager of a sports finance consultancy. Note to Gloecker: A five-minute phone call with NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly would probably have yielded more than a few dissenting opinions on the direction of the league.

Diane Brady, a Business Week Senior Editor, put a couple of tougher questions to Bettman, but he responded with the usual canned responses, especially when it came to the health of teams in "non-traditional" markets. When asked how they were doing -- which was a question that wasn't anywhere near as precise as it needed to be -- it was easy for Bettman to respond that everything was positive. Of course, as most hockey fans know, things are not terribly positive in markets like Phoenix (massive financial losses), Nashville (ownership instability) and Miami (poor attendance).

One surprise: Brady admitted googling Bettman's name and discovering, lo and behold, that not every fan of ice hockey is a fan of the commissioner -- not exactly a news flash. As you might expect, Bettman laughed it off, responding with the classic retort that the only time he should be worried is if the fan's weren't talking about him.

Of course, the biggest concern overhanging the league is the biggest concern overhanging the global economy: how is the global credit crunch going to affect everyone's business prospects? For whatever reason, that question was never asked. Still, one has to wonder: how is a league that is so dependent on gate receipts positioned to weather an extended recession? Granted, no one is really sure just how long and how deep a recession triggered by the global credit crisis may be, only that some difficult times punctuated by some job losses are potentially ahead.

The last time the league lived through an extended economic downturn in the 1970s, teams folded (California Seals), relocated (Kansas City to Colorado to New Jersey) or had to merge in order to survive (Minnesota and Cleveland). Given that track record, I don't believe any CEO, sports-related or otherwise, can be sleeping terribly soundly these days. As I've said before, I don't believe Bettman should bear 100% of the blame for many of the game's problems, but I know all too well that many CEOs, even incredibly competent managers, can get overwhelmed by events. Given that, something tells me that Bettman and the rest of the league may be in for a very rough ride in the near term.

Thanks, as always, to J.P. for the pointer.

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