SAINT-LAZARE, QC — This past week in Washington, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the open letter sent to him by Canadian sponsor, Air Canada. He dismissed their threat by saying that if they want to pull out of the National Hockey League as a sponsor, he can find another. Since then, Via Rail Canada has come out with a similar stance.
Reebok-CCM Hockey and the University of Ottawa’s Neurotrauma Impact Science Laboratory jointly hosted a recent event to hi-light the issue of concussions. Reebok-CCM vice-president Len Rhodes is concerned that the lack of action by the NHL on head injuries, and the headlines it brings is having a negative impact on enrollment in minor hockey.
It’s high time that Mr. Bettman understands that the league does not revolve around him. With the news that he was signed to a five year contract extension in November, there is both outrage and concern amongst fans and media. If Mr. Bettman represents the NHL Board of Governors and the owners, do his view reciprocate their appreciation of the fans at large, and, more importantly, of the league’s sponsors?
Let’s be frank. While the Canadian companies that sponsor the league are among a minority, their displeasure with the league most certain holds merit. Many of these companies, as well as their American counterparts, expect some of the NHL’s greatest stars to participate in advertising campaigns. In the case of Reebok/CCM, those stars happen to be Pittsburgh Penguins’ star Sydney Crosby, and Washington Capitals’ captain, Alexander Ovechkin. Their absences and the fact they wear the Reebok/CCM brand would send the wrong image to consumers. “Wear Reebok, Syd the Kid does…oh, but wait, he’s got a concussion….Wear CCM, the Great 8…oh, but Pacioretty…” You see where the list can just continue on and on.
Let me remind all those companies that give their sponsorship money to the “No Head League” that his remarks, although directed at your Canadian cousins in business, can someday be directed at you. Do American-based companies really want to do business with a league, or better yet a business, that doesn’t protect it’s most prized assets? If you ask any economist in the world, they would certainly tell you it’s economic suicide.
I applaud Pittsburgh owner, Mario Lemieux, and Montreal owner, Geoff Molson, for speaking their minds on the condition the league is in. They have thrown the gauntlet down to the 28 other owners, and thrown the ball in their court. While I expect a minority of others to side with Lemieux and Bettman, I say to the others, what’s more important to you? The business of hockey, or the ego of the Smurf you’ve hired to represent your business. Even the most successful CEOs in the world get fired when their heads grow bigger than the company they represent.
The fact remains that until Gary Bettman gets a complaint in regard to the rising number of concussions from an American-based sponsor, like Anheuser-Busch, he will continue to be an arrogant and smug individual. Only when the owners’ pocketbooks are affected, will the situation progress. And with Bettman claiming responsibility for increasing the league’s revenues by $1 billion since the lockout, that’s not likely to happen any time soon.