Advice to Bettman: Stay away from TV cameras
There are always many questions surrounding Gary Bettman's annual appearance during Hockey Night In Canada's playoff coverage. For example, there was the time he kept trying to grab interviewer Ron MacLean's hand, which made you wonder if he was trying to get his attention or steal his watch.
But the one that mystifies most is: Why does he do it?
Why does the NHL commissioner, who has all the television skills of an end table, continue to do interviews that serve only to make him look petulant, defensive, condescending and more like a cornered animal than a league executive?
Wednesday night's second-intermission session with Ron MacLean was yet another example of Bettman doing himself no favours. Now, MacLean will never be confused with Edward R. Murrow or Peter Mansbridge or even Larry King. And he certainly didn't do himself any good by opening the segment by crooning ``Happy Birthday" to the NHL boss. (At times, HNIC looks more like the theatre of the absurd than a hockey broadcast.)
But once he stopped singing, MacLean did ask some relevant questions and Bettman, as usual, didn't handle them very well. Still, he didn't look too bad until he started challenging MacLean's entire line of questioning on the issues of finances and franchise values.
"What I'm amazed, now that we've run the gamut of this, we've had a great season, hockey has been terrific, these playoffs are great, we're seeing a wonderful game — and you just want to tick off franchise after franchise?" he said. "What inside of you compels you to want to go in that direction? Because I don't believe the viewers are really that interested in the franchise status."
MacLean said he was representing the players' interests, not mentioning that maybe he should be representing the fans' concerns, but stayed on topic. Bettman then asked him where he got his information, accusing him of ``making this up."
MacLean didn't exactly sound credible when he said he got most of his information from Forbes magazine and the Sports Business Journal, but he did ask some tough questions and certainly got a reaction from his subject.
But the subject may want to consider lying low for a while, or at least learning how to handle a TV interview.
BIG NUMBERS: Wednesday's game drew 2.96 million viewers to CBC, an impressive audience even in this age of big sports ratings. That's about a million more than CBC drew last year, though the new ratings system has consistently produced much larger numbers. In the U.S., Versus followed Monday's 5.89-million audience on NBC by drawing 3.6 million viewers Wednesday. That was the largest hockey audience on a cable channel in eight years. NBC's 5.1 million average over two games is the highest in 13 years. So answer this: Why aren't all the final games on NBC? It seems odd to disrupt a pretty good run by sending viewers to Versus and losing 1.5 million of them in the process.