Conference Call with Gary Bettman Analysis


Earlier today, the NHL announced that HBO would be broadcasting a show focusing on the Winter Classic (ESPN mentions it as well). It’s similar to Hard Knocks, and be made up of 4, one hour episodes.  There was a live telephone conference at 2:30 today, in which NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, NHL COO John Collins, and the President of HBO Sports Ross Greenburg all spoke, and then fielded some questions.

Gary Bettman: He was fairly brief but fielded the majority of the questions, which I’ll get to below.

  • He made the announcement that it would be a show on HBO and would culminate during the Winter Classic, featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals.
  • This is about entertainment and to expand the Classic.

John Collins: Very aggressive in the marketing and expansion of the NHL.

  • He strives to point out that this show is for the fans.
  • It’s about story telling and entertainment.
  • The show will cover four weeks during the regular season, which is a first for the HBO 24/7 series.

Ross Greenburg:

  • Reality TV: Meetings, players away from the rink, locker rooms – pretty much following everyone around for 24/7, as the show is titled.
  • The teams play each other twice during the time span, so the episode will feature the first game as well as focus on the preparation for the second game.
  • They want the show to be exciting and as real as possible.  You can expect some “salty language.”

After making these brief points, they opened up the forum to take questions.  The questions were all over the place. I didn’t record anything or write it down word for word, so it’s all paraphrasing:

  • The first episode will debut on December 15.
  • A prank caller from Kidd Chris asked if there would be cheerleaders (I think he said naked cheerleaders but it was a bit muffled.) Nobody was amused, he was cut off.
  • Someone asked about how remarkable it was that a franchise like Pittsburgh that was on the brink of bankruptcy has come so far.  Bettman made a good point in saying that it’s part of his strategy to not give up on a struggling franchise too quickly.  He pointed out Ottawa and a few other similar cases of teams that have rebounded from financial difficulty. He followed up by saying that while Crosby played a major role in the revival, he believed that the city of Pittsburgh would still have come back to hockey regardless of whether they’d drafted him or not.
  • Bettman completely disagrees that the Crosby/Ovechkin rivalry is overexposed.  He still believes that it makes for a good story, and the public cares about the players.  On the other hand, he also feels that the players don’t necessarily carry the league by themselves. As proof, he pointed out the tremendous TV ratings that the Stanley Cup Finals drew.
    • In terms of this show, he says it will not focus on Crosby and Ovechkin.   It’s about storytelling and characters, and it will focus on every member of the team and everyone involved in game preparation. Coaches and other people will of course be highlighted as well. Bettman said that it would be “moronic” to focus on just two players for the full 4 hours.
  • Somebody asked how much money HBO or the NHL would make from this. Stupid question, shot down completely.
  • Next was a question about the timing of all of this.  The idea came about when HBO and the NHL were working on the Broad Street Bullies special.  It was a lucky coincidence that the Flyers made the finals shortly after that special was aired. The teams in the Winter Classic had been selected and announced long before the concept of this show came about. 
  • There will be all types of insider footage: possibly a shot of the Steelers leaving Heinz Field and the ice crews getting right to work to prepare the stadium for an NHL game.
  • The next question was about why the NHL didn’t focus on bigger markets or if a name change to the TV show was considered.
    • First, Bettman (or Collins) said that the market size wasn’t really an issue.  They felt that these teams have a rivalry, their fanbases have a rivalry, and the story is dramatic enough.  Storytelling: seems to be a main theme.
    • Second, the name of the show stays because they feel it is an established franchise that has won Emmy Awards and has strong brand recognition.
  • Lastly, the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes is progressing, and the goal of having them sold by the end of the year remains.  $25M set aside by the city of Phoenix is still sitting in escrow, and has not been used by the NHL.

My Take:

This show will be pretty similar to Hard Knocks, and should be pretty fun. I’m with the guy who asked about the overexposure of Crosby/Ovechkin, but that won’t change the Classic already.  I’m glad that the show will not be about those two. This is big step in the right direction for the NHL, in terms of getting exposure.  Hockey just isn’t as big as the other sports, but it’s growing.  And a show like this should appeal to casual and new fans, because it’s not about x’s and o’s, but more about people. I didn’t know much about John Collins, so I check out his Wikipedia page. He seems like the forward thinker that the NHL needs, and I have a feeling that this is just another step towards the goal of making the NHL more popular.

I’d love to hear what you think about this show, or anything else that was mentioned in the call.

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