NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke to reporters before tonights Caps-Canucks game, and touched on a number of topics ranging from the economy to games Europe.
Bettman said that unlike some sports leagues, the NHL has not yet been affected by the recent downturn in the economy. (The NBA yesterday said it was expecting a decline in season ticket sales and was laying off 9 percent of its domestic workforce.)
“That is not the mode we find ourselves in right now,” Bettman said. “Our season tickets are up 4 percent over where they were a year ago, and as of ten days ago our single game tickets were up almost 13 percent. Those are remarkable, if not startling numbers, when you look at whats going on.
“Having said that, we remain cautious. We are obviously focused on the fact that if the economic downturn continues for a long period of time every business, not just sports and not just us, nobody can be immune. It’s affecting leagues, industries, differently. But I’m not being pollyanish about this. We’re acutely aware of whats going on out there. But it hasnt yet impacted us. I have no doubt that over time, if its long enough and bad enough it will have some impact, but based on what we see right now, our business seems to be strong. So no, we’re not contemplating any layoffs right now, but we are going to monitor our revenues and watch our expenses very closely.”
The commissioner also addressed the tightening credit market. He said it hasn’t been a serious issue, because no teams are actively looking to relocate or be sold. “I suppose it could become an issue if someone has a refinancing, and they’re having trouble doing it, Bettman said. “But we have great relationships with our lenders and at least as we have this conversation its not posing any immediate issues. Then again, the Dow is up 11 percent today, and maybe things are starting to fall and maybe lending will come back in. This is a very volatile environment and its probably not a good idea for us to draw conclusions on a day-to-day basis.”
Bettman began by discussing the recent season-opening games in Stockholm and Prague, and said he was pleased with the decision to play regular season games there rather than simply pre-season games or just exhibitions.
“We were in extremely sophisticated hockey markets, which is why we wanted to give them the real NHL product and play regular season games,” he said.
Would the Caps be involved in any future games in Europe? “If were to continue to do this, I would be surprised if the Capitals were not included,” he said.
Bettman said he was aware of comments from Dallas Stars left wing Sean Avery, who complained that the NHL should do a better job of marketing its players.
“We market, there a campaigns, there are commercials,” Bettman said. “Sean Avery is never bashful with his opinions. I respect his right to have an opinion; That doesnt mean I agree with it or give it any credence.”