Born: June 2, 1952
Hometown: Queens, NY
Hometown: Queens, NY
Is the first commissioner in the history of the National Hockey League. He replaced president John Ziegler. Bettman began his tenure on Feb. 1, 1993.
The NHL's Board of Governors elected Bettman unanimously on Dec. 11, 1992. His original mandate from team owners was to grow the game -- expand into unexploited, lucrative markets in the United States, improve marketing and secure new TV deals.
Bettman's election to the post was a bit controversial. Before joining the NHL, he spent 12 years as a senior executive of the National Basketball Association, and many in traditional hockey circles were resentful that a lawyer from New York was running the game. Critics said Bettman wasn't a "hockey guy." They charged that making money -- not the love of the game -- was motivating Bettman. Some also said the commissioner was trying to "Americanize" the game and didn't appreciate the place hockey occupied in Canada's culture.
During Bettman's 10-year tenure the NHL has:
- Grown from 21 to 30 franchises. There are teams in Arizona, Florida, Tennessee and Texas -- areas previously considered non-traditional hockey markets.
- Seen revenues go from $400 million to over $1.6 billion.
- Had its profile across North America dramatically raised. The NHL's licensing and sponsorship income now rivals that of other big professional sports leagues. Ten years ago NHL teams competed in 11 U.S. markets. That number has doubled to 22. Licensing revenues have grown 700% to 1.2 billion.
- Signed TV deals with major American broadcasters ABC and ESPN. The deal brings NHL games to more than 85 million homes in the United States. In 2002, the NHL reached a five-year agreement with CBC and TSN to broadcast games in Canada.
Bettman has made changes to the game itself. The NHL's divisions were renamed to reflect geography rather than the league's history. The league adopted a two-referee system; goal lines, blue lines and defensive-zone circles were moved, and playoff formats were changed shortly after Bettman took office.
To improve the pace and flow of the game, rules that crack down on clutch-and-grab and obstruction were toughened. Olympic-inspired hurry-up line changes were also instituted.
In 1998, Bettman allowed NHLers to participate in the Olympic Winter Games in Nagano. It marked the first time the league's players had played in the Games. The NHL suspended the 2001-02 regular season for 10 days to allow 125 players to participate in the Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games.
While the last decade may have seen the best of times for the NHL, Bettman has also presided over the worst of times. Revenues are up, but so are expenses. According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, more than two-thirds of the NHL's franchises reported losses in 2002-03.
Bettman's strategy to "grow the game" has also made it difficult for hockey to survive in Canadian markets. Some fans in Quebec and Winnipeg still blame Bettman's expansionist plan for the Jets' move to Phoenix and the Nordiques' move to Colorado. Annually, the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens must find ways to compete despite financial constraints. The Ottawa Senators went bankrupt.
There also has been labour strife. The referees went on strike in 2001 and the owners locked out the players in 1994. The lockout lasted 104 days and cost the league a total of 468 games. The 1994-95 season was 48 games long.
The dispute was settled after some difficult and mostly acrimonious negotiations between Bettman and NHLPA head Bob Goodenow. Some observers have suggested the personal relationship between Bettman and Goodenow is still contentious, which could affect negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
"What scares me is that there are so few people involved in the process. It's Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow and they don't appear very cordial in their relationship." -- hockey agent Ritch Winter in the August 2001 edition of the Report on Business Magazine.