Gary Bettman, president of the National Hockey League, was once merely an embarrassment. Recently, he has become offensive.
Hockey, like all professional sports, is fan-driven. Without fans there is no professional product; with them there can be untotalled wealth for all involved — a direct transference from the pockets of the fans.
Fans today are the equivalent of slaves: they have no power, no authority, no voice in the process; they do what is expected of them — most of the time. They pay up and shut up but for the frustrated venting on sports radio.
Yes, the ticket prices are crippling, but we pay up; yes, the product is often mediocre, but we make our excuses; yes, the paraphernalia on sale is shockingly over-priced but we don’t have to buy it.
Viscerally, there is a kind of symbiosis between the player and the fan: we understand each other; often we are each other; we grew up together; we lived in the same communities; we chased the same goals; the one is living the other’s dream.
Bettman changed all that. He was a non-hockey player, an American, he came from basketball and he was never about the sport, he was always about the commerce of sports. He never had the dream in his eyes, how could he, he didn’t play the game, didn’t know the game. He was never a Clarence Campbell. He had only dollar signs.
Bettman was only ever about the corporate side: grind more bucks out of the fans and when there was nothing left to give, create fans elsewhere, in shorts and tank top in the south and south west in Sunrise, and Tampa and Phoenix and LA. They’ll love it.
It’s the fan’s money that is in the process of buying the Phoenix Coyotes for the NHL to keep it out of the hands of a guy who wants to move the team to a market that cares about the game. It will be the fans money that bails out Atlanta and Nashville and wherever else. That’s who fills the league’s coffers. The fans.
Most of the time we shrug and show up or tune in. But it’s getting harder to do that. The fans never ask for much. Ever. So when they do, you’d think the league would listen.
The fans want another team in Southern Ontario and they may want their teams back in Winnipeg and Quebec City.
Bettman’s actions to keep a team out of Southern Ontario is not just an effrontery to Ontarioans, but to real hockey everywhere.
There seem no chance that any of this will happen under the league leadership of basketball executive from Long Island.
Someone should start a Take Back the Game initiative. On one night in March, all fans should agree to stay away, no not tune in. Get Bettman fired and get someone in his office who pays attention to those who are paying the bills.