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A sit-down with Commissioner Gary Bettman

A sit-down with Commissioner Gary Bettman

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Forty-year-old Gary Bettman sat at a table in a conference room in West Palm Beach, Fla., flanked by NHL vice president Gil Stein and Los Angeles Kings owner and NHL Board of Governors Chairman Bruce McNall.

He was about to be named the first commissioner in the 76-year history of the National Hockey League, after spending more than 10 years working under David Stern at the NBA. League owners were bullish on the young Bettman — they saw him cut from the same cloth as the successful Stern, and viewed him as the perfect executive to advance the sport and grow the business of hockey.

“I do the best I can, and I work hard at it.”
Photo by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY
Dressed in a dark suit with a multicolored tie, Bettman outlined his focus on the game, saying, “The way a league performs well is to make its product as attractive as it can to the greatest number of fans.”

That day began a journey that has seen Bettman build the league into a modern, successful organization and, over the past 24 years, take it from a nearly $300 million business to one now pushing $4.5 billion.

Bettman began as commissioner in 1993 and is now the longest-serving active commissioner in pro sports, and while observers like to speculate on the legacy of the 64-year-old executive, he’s happy to keep his focus on the here and now.

“People will define my legacy. It’s not for me to,” he told SportsBusiness Journal’s Ian Thomas in late December in a sit-down in his office overlooking Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. “Frankly, I do the best I can, and I work hard at it, and I love what I do. That’s all you can ask for.”

In a nearly 90-minute conversation, Bettman discussed his stewardship of the league and his vision for the future.

• • • • • •

You were the first commissioner in the history of the NHL. What did that title mean to you?
BETTMAN:
The title change was consistent with the view of ownership that the league needed to be modernized, needed to move forward, needed to catch up with the times. I viewed them hiring me as commissioner as opposed to president as consistent with that theme, with that mandate, and with that vision. When I went through the interviewing process, they wanted to hear my vision to move the league and the game of hockey forward. Whether it was a system that would stabilize the game and make teams more competitive, whether it was getting more exposure, whether it was simply modernizing the way the league office and the clubs were operating, whether it was getting clubs to have a more common league-think vision, that is what I was articulating to them that I thought needed to be done, and if this was consistent with what the search committee was interested in, then we had a lot to talk about. Clearly that was a vision that was embraced by the board when they elected me.

How do you define your leadership style?
BETTMAN:
There are certain core elements of running any business or a league, and that is that you have to work hard. These are not 9-to-5 jobs, these are 24/7. As my wife reminds me, this is a lifestyle, this is not a job. People that work here and at the clubs feel the same way — it’s a passion. You’ve got to do your homework, you have to be thorough, you have to know everything you need to know, you need to have a vision, and you build consensus by being communicative, by being transparent, and by giving the people you serve confidence in what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

What qualities do you think make you a successful leader?
BETTMAN:
I was raised in a manner that required me to be independent. I’ve been married for 41 years to a woman who is very smart and very independent and very strong-willed, which is perhaps why we’ve been together so successfully for 45 years. We’ve got great kids who have a great work ethic and who are smart, and are independent as well, and they’ve married great people, and I attribute all of that to my wife, not to me. But having an inner strength, or something people often suggest as a thick skin, is all part of I guess what I am.

Bettman presents the Conn Smythe Trophy to 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs MVP Patrick Roy of the Montreal Canadiens.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started?
BETTMAN:
It’s never one thing. We all learn as we get older. I was 40 years old when I started this job, I’m now in my mid-60s, which they tell me makes me the longest-serving and oldest of the major commissioners. Like all people, as you get older, your experiences cause you to focus on things a little different, to make decisions a little bit differently, to stress over different things and fewer things and more important things. But everything you do should be part of a learning experience, and you do learn. Part of it also is relationships, and I am fortunate that I’ve built relationships with an extraordinary group of owners who are passionate about the game, first and foremost, but they’re smart and they’re good people, good counselors, and they’ve been extraordinarily supportive. The fact that the league and franchises have never been stronger is testament as much, if not more, to the great owners we have.

Do you feel the position has changed you at all?
BETTMAN:
I hope so, I hope experience has made me wiser. I’ve always been fairly comfortable multitasking and choosing what I need to stress over. While I’ve always been comfortable doing it, I’ve probably gotten a little better at it as I’ve gotten older, But I think that’s true of most adults as they get older if they are paying attention to what’s going on around them.

I would imagine the way you work has changed quite a bit since 1993.
BETTMAN:
Our ability to communicate in this rapidly changing technology era is something that has been great for the fans and great for the game, but as somebody running a league and the business of a league, you need to take advantage of. I viewed this job as 24/7. What we do is constantly scrutinized by fans, by media, by everybody. We don’t have the luxury of taking a couple of days off. If something happens we have to deal with it.

I’m a lawyer by training. I view all the constituents as my clients, and I have a fiduciary obligation to serve them, and that’s part of why I think it’s important they know I’m always available. In fact, I have several owners who will text me right before they call, and I always say, “Why do you do that? Just call!” But some of them do it at 11:30 or 12 at night because they’re in different time zones. But I’m energized by what I do, I love the interaction, so the fact that the interaction can happen at any time of the day or night is part of what excites and intrigues me about this position.

What do you tell potential owners who meet with you about you or the league?
BETTMAN:
The first thing I do is tell them I’m not going to sell or oversell. I’ll answer their questions, but I tell them I don’t want to oversell you because if you buy, I have to live with you, and I don’t want there to be unrealistic or unfair expectations. Now, having said that, I’m very proud of our league and our franchises, and I think they’ve become increasingly valuable.

When you see owners come in and make heavy investments in projects related to the team like Jeff Vinik in Tampa, does that excite you?
BETTMAN:
It’s that coupled with what everyone is doing from a community and corporate social responsibility standpoint. Look at programs like “Snider Hockey” in inner cities, which has taken over and run a number of city-owned rinks that were in need of repair and may have been closed down. The graduation rate in the Philadelphia school system is in the 40 percent range and in the “Snider Hockey” program, it’s over 95 percent. Learn to Play programs that aren’t focused on making new fans or players, but giving people a chance to learn life’s lessons and ensuring they get a good education, that’s important. What we’ve been doing for 20 years on Hockey Fights Cancer is important, what we’ve been doing on diversity is important. So yes, there are things that are being done around clubs and arenas from an economic standpoint, but this is a sport that at the ownership, management and player levels, people are constantly giving back, and that is an important and imperative thing for sports leagues

How have improvements in digital and media platforms changed being a fan of the NHL?
BETTMAN:
In Canada, “Hockey Night in Canada” is 60 years old, one of the longest-running series in television history anywhere. But fans in the U.S. were historically underserved by traditional media. As a hockey fan growing up, I never had a problem watching hockey on television although now having a decade of HDTV, if you go back and watch a game in analog, you’re amazed you could have even watched it. It’s not just the clarity, it’s also the wide aspect ratio, so in analog TV, you just see the puck carrier, and in HD, you can see several players and the play develop, so it’s a completely different experience and brings more of what we think is the best experience in person in sports home on television. So, technology has improved what our game looks like, but also more fundamentally, if you were a fan 30 years ago in the U.S. and you were living in Chicago, if the Blackhawks didn’t make the playoffs or when they got eliminated, you were done. You couldn’t watch the Stanley Cup Final. This current agreement with NBC is the first time that every game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is on national TV. When I tell that to people, they say you’re kidding. It took a number of years to align the relationships and get the schedule that we wanted to make this a reality, but giving fans a chance to connect to the game better than ever before has been vitally important to us. Digital platforms, whether it’s the team websites, NHL.com, the apps we have or social media, has enabled our fans to better connect with our game than they ever were before, because fans in the U.S. in particular were underserved, and we’ve come a long way to fixing that and catching up.

“The fact of the matter is, at different points at time, different people will have a variety of opinions on different subjects and a variety of tactics on how to get there.”
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES


What do you see ahead for the league’s media platforms?
BETTMAN:
More and better. Our partners are extraordinary. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them, whether it’s NBC or Rogers or BAMTech, but I think the best is yet to come. Technology will continue to evolve and we’ll continue to use it, including on social media platforms. So, if you’re a fan, you’re going to continue to be able to get what you want and when you want it, and you’ll be able to get more and more of it, including shoulder programming. For example, if you look at what we’re doing with the Centennial microsite, and all the content that we’re putting out and will be available, the fact that you can go back and look at the stats at every game that’s ever been played, these are all things for our fans to get more engaged with our game. This is playing into our sweet spot. Why are younger fans gravitating towards the game? It’s a testament to the speed and nonstop action. I saw a chart the other day that said the NFL game averaged 3 hours and there’s 11 minutes of action. Baseball is somewhere close to that. We play faster than a football, basketball or baseball game, and we have the most action. The attention span of people has been changing over time, and I think we fit a faster dynamic and a shorter attention span.

Do you worry at all about the rise of soccer or esports, and how it may challenge the NHL going forward?
BETTMAN:
They’re all different. I don’t worry about the other sports; I focus on ours. I love our sport, and I know our fans love our sport. Everything we do — marketing, promotion, distribution — starts with the game, and we spend a great deal of time, effort and money to monitor the game and make sure it’s vibrant, it’s competitive, it’s entertaining, it’s exciting. So, we like to take what we have and make sure it’s out there in the best possible ways. But what other leagues or sports choose to do is up to them.

How do you describe the current state of the game?
BETTMAN:
Both fans and those within the game tell me that it has never been more entertaining, never been more skillful, never been faster, never been more competitive. Our competitive balance under the system we have is extraordinary. We probably have the best competitive balance in our history and it may be the best in all competitive sports, because at the beginning of every season, every team has a chance, and once the playoffs start, anything can happen. The state of play has been extraordinarily good.

You can’t help but notice the change in the speed of the game even compared to a decade ago.
BETTMAN:
It’s breathtaking.

Do you credit rule changes for that?
BETTMAN:
Yes, but the fact that we have a system where all teams can be competitive, where teams play to win, not to neutralize skill, but to be competitive, has helped. Also, there has been a lot of attention being paid to the great young stars coming into the game, particularly the last couple of seasons. That’s a factor of the changing competitiveness of the league and the rule changes, because instead of being taught a grinding game, the players who are coming in to the game now were 6, 7, and 8 years old, and they were learning to play a more skillful, wide-open game, and now we’re seeing the product of that.


     Center Ice


      League heads during the
         NHL’s first 100 years


Frank Calder
Titles: President and secretary/treasurer
Years in office: 1917-1943
Ascent: The former secretary of the National Hockey Association is elected as the first president and secretary-treasurer of the NHL.

Mervyn “Red” Dutton
Title: President
Years in office: 1943-1946
Ascent: A popular former player, the New York Americans manager and owner replaces Calder after his sudden passing.

Clarence Campbell
Title: President
Years in office: 1946-1977
Ascent: A former lieutenant colonel in the Canadian Army and assistant to NHL President Frank Calder, Campbell replaces Dutton after serving in World War II.

John Ziegler Jr.
Title: President
Years in office: 1977-1992
Ascent: The chairman of the NHL Board of Governors succeeds Campbell after he retires.

Gil Stein
Title: President
Years in office: 1992-1993
Ascent: After serving as NHL vice president and legal counsel for nearly 15 years, Stein is named the fifth and last president of the NHL. At the same time as his appointment, the league hired an executive search firm to help find a new commissioner.

Gary Bettman
Title: Commissioner
Years in office: 1993-present
Ascent: Bettman, NBA senior vice president and general counsel who had been with the league since 1981, is named the NHL’s first commissioner. When Stein’s term ended on July 1, 1993, the duties of the president were given to the commissioner.

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research
Some of those nontraditional markets where you helped put teams like Arizona are now producing those young players like Auston Matthews, so it is somewhat of your doing.
BETTMAN:
I’m not about credit. It’s great to see the game thriving in so many places, there’s no doubt. Dave Ogrean at USA Hockey will tell you this: When an NHL franchise is in a place where there wasn’t one before, hockey grows at the grassroots levels extraordinarily. I was in Arizona last night, and I bumped into Mr. [Jeff] Chychrun [whose son plays for the Coyotes]. Boca Raton, Fla. How many people do we have from Southern California in the draft? Hockey is for everyone, and it is played everywhere. Is it played outdoors on frozen ponds everywhere? The answer is no, but there are more rinks than ever before, including in warm climates.

When teams do struggle, do you allow yourself to see that long-term goal of the impact it could have?
BETTMAN:
When there is a problem with a franchise, despite all the speculation and myriad opinions on the subject, I generally tend to know what the problem is. It doesn’t mean I always do, but I generally have a good idea. When you have a problem with a franchise in a market that you believe should be a good market, when you have good people in place, you tend to want to focus on what you can do to reward the fans who stood by you, not punish them. We’ve always tried to resist franchise relocation, particularly in places that we think it’ll work if you put the right pieces together. But when you’re missing a few pieces, you try to fix that by replacing those pieces, not by moving the team.

With Las Vegas, do you see that team as an opportunity to not only grow the game locally but also nationally and internationally as well?
BETTMAN:
That was something we took into account. As we went through a fairly exhaustive process, spending well over a year on it, we knew we were getting someone who would be a quality owner with the resources to own and develop a market and a team in Bill Foley; we knew we were getting a terrific new arena in really the perfect location in Las Vegas because it’s in walking distance of the Strip and accessible from the highways without having to go on local streets, and the arena is beautiful. We learned about the market first doing our own research, and we learned there are a couple of million people who want real things to do like you would get in any other major city, and then when Bill Foley did the ticket drive, the results were extraordinary for a team that not only didn’t exist, but might never exist. When you add to that that we believe being in a city like Las Vegas would likely raise the profile of the league and make the league stronger as a brand and stronger as an entertainment product, is something that the governors took into account when they made the decision to bring Las Vegas into the league. Part of that decision was to provide for a deeper expansion draft than we have ever seen before, so that this team, while not likely to win the Stanley Cup in the first year, will be more competitive. Everybody stepped back and said, “You know what, we’re going to make this team stronger. I may lose a player I’d prefer not to lose, but that will make for a better expansion team and be better for the league as a whole.”

What can be done to continue to grow the league internationally?
BETTMAN:
Outside of North America come 25 percent of our players, and they’re terrifically skilled. So, anything we can do that continues to encourage the development of these world-class players in countries outside of North America is good for the league, good for the skill level of the game. There are other traditional hockey countries in northern Europe and Russia, and countries like China, that are very big and present an enormous amount of opportunity to grow the game. While initiatives tend to bring with them revenue opportunities, I think we can continue to grow the game of hockey worldwide, and we can use our game at the NHL level to do it because the best players in the world come to play in the NHL.

What’s the challenge in doing that?
BETTMAN:
We need a more regular set of events than we’ve had. Putting on events like the World Cup is something we do jointly with the players’ association. The players’ association had a period of time where there was a number of executive directors and lack of continuity, but under Don Fehr, he has strengthened it, and together we were able to put on a very successful event and bring back the World Cup. I think it’s our joint view to continue our work that we did so well for this World Cup in Toronto by continuing to have a regular schedule of World Cups, and Ryder Cups and maybe regular-season games and exhibitions games and clinics, and build a more regular presence. We’re on television in over 150 countries worldwide, but that’s not enough. We need to show our players and our game up close and personal and that will help grow the game. I think the World Cup was a very important foundation for that effort.

What role does Olympic participation play in growing the game internationally?
BETTMAN:
We’ve done it five times. I’m not sure that the issues relative to participation have always been offset by the participation itself, and that has also been a function of where the Olympics have taken place, and I think a lot of the teams are fatigued on the subject because they find it incredibly disruptive. Interestingly, at least three leagues in other countries have said to me in the last few weeks, “We hope you go to the Olympics,” I said why. “Because if you don’t, we have to, and we think it’s too disruptive to our seasons,” they said. And I said, well, that kind of says it all. It’s tough. It’s not just the break that disrupts the flow of the season. We lose massive exposure because depending on how the U.S. or Canadian teams play, the more or less number of games showed at odd times, we’re giving up 17 days of prime-time exposure at a time where there is no football, no baseball, just us and basketball. Also, these players leave in one condition and come back in another, which is a competitive issue as well, and while there is always the discussion of risk of injury at the Olympics, there’s always the risk of injury from having a compressed regular season. It’s a very complicated issue and certainly by going five times, we’ve tried hard. Ultimately, I can’t predict with certainty what the view of the teams will be, but I think there is a lot of fatigue on the subject.

A commissioners’ confab in 2000: the NBA’s David Stern, Bettman, MLB’s Bud Selig and the NFL’s Paul Tagliabue
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES


Not many fans see both sides of that argument.
BETTMAN:
The reaction is going to be mixed. There are lots of people who think we should go, no matter what, and there is lots of people who said no, send the kids, send amateurs, send someone else, particularly people who have teams out of their buildings for a month. It’s a mixed bag, every aspect of this is a mixed bag, and yes, whatever is ultimately decided there will be people who support it and people who will be critical of it. There will be fingers pointed, and that’s just life.

Speaking of the fans, you have a bit of a unique relationship with them.
BETTMAN:
It’s great. First of all, all the commissioners get booed. It’s become a ritual. I’m actually focused on the fact that if I walk out there and it’s quiet, there’s probably a problem. But you know, it’s funny, if you saw the event in Las Vegas when the team name was announced, I got up and everybody booed. Now, why were they booing? They just got a team, they had nothing to boo about! And my remarks were, “This proves you’re an NHL-worthy city.” It’s fine, it’s absolutely fine. What happens is when I’m in a building and that happens, everyone comes up to me and says, “Gee, that was terrible, I’m sorry people booed you. I didn’t boo you.” If that was true based on the number of people that come up to me, nobody would have been booing! If nothing else, it keeps you well-grounded.

You say the relationship with the NHLPA has never been stronger. What has changed?
BETTMAN:
I’m going to answer the question in a way you’re going to find very unsatisfying. The fact of the matter is, at different points at time, different people will have a variety of opinions on different subjects and a variety of tactics on how to get there. I believe everybody who at any point in time ran the union, believed they were doing the right thing. We believed we were doing the right thing, we paid a terrible price in a couple of instances for doing it, but in each instance, the league came back stronger. I’m not going to go back and second guess on what someone did on behalf of the union. [NHLPA Executive Director] Don [Fehr] and I have a very open, constructive relationship. We have known each other for probably 30 years, and while we’re probably not going to agree on everything, I think we both absolutely respect each other.

Did you follow the NBA’s recent CBA extension? Do you think something like that could happen in the NHL?
BETTMAN:
You can’t miss it. It was well-chronicled that we had some discussions on a framework for labor peace and an intense international schedule over a long period of time, which you can only plan on with the stability of long-term peace. It was not a negotiation, it wasn’t a demand, it came out of a discussion out of when to schedule the next World Cup — it had nothing to do with the Olympics when we started the discussion. Believe it or not, I believe labor peace is extraordinarily positive and valuable, and I would love to know there would be labor peace forever.

Do you think we’ll ever see a team outside of North America?
BETTMAN:
There’s a couple of issues. The logistics, how do you play the first round of a playoff series, best-of-7, going back and forth? These are things you could work with, but they’re not easily solved. And secondly, we’re very respectful of the infrastructure that’s in place. The Swedish Elite League isn’t dying for us to put a franchise in Sweden. So we want to be part of making hockey bigger and stronger, but we don’t want to necessarily supplant what is in place. And again, we don’t play once a week, and we have leagues doing what we do but not at the same level.

Do you see data and analytics playing a larger role in roster decisions?
BETTMAN:
I think it’s an extra data point that can confirm, reaffirm, give you a thought, but I don’t think you can put together a hockey team solely on analytics. It’s the ultimate team sport, and chemistry is as important as anything else, and I’m not sure if analytics, at least at this point, can adequately create chemistry. Perhaps at some point AI [artificial intelligence] can, but not at this point.

How do you balance improving the viewing experience at home, while still ensuring fans turn out for games?
BETTMAN:
We don’t think there is any sport better in person than ours. I believe our teams and our arenas we play in try on a nightly basis to give the best possible experience to the people coming in, and I don’t ever view us being a studio sport. And people like to come together and gather in groups and support a common agenda, namely sports teams, and I don’t see that changing. If that changes, then sport has lost something. I hope and I believe that we will provide an experience to compel people to be part of a group as opposed to more of a solitary existence.

Connor McDavid at age 20 is the league leader in points, just one of the many young players doing well in the league. Is this a trend you expect to continue?
BETTMAN:
Based on the speed and skill of the game, there has been a transition to a younger game. But that will only happen to a point; you’re not going to see 15-year-olds playing. Players will come up and — not all — will be phenoms at 19 and 20, and there will be players that will have long careers, but may not make it up [to the NHL] until they are 22 or 23.

How has player safety evolved?
BETTMAN:
We and the players’ association together take player safety very seriously. We have a number of committees that deal with rules on player safety, that deal with all of the issues to make sure our initiatives on player safety are aligned with what’s going on on-the-ice. I think we’ve done a very good job in that respect. We were the first league to have a department of player safety, and to the extent we think it’s appropriate with the players’ association to make adjustments to the game, we do it. I think in terms of the medical care and treatment that players get from the trainers and physicians, to the supervision they get including from neutral spotters in the league office, we’re working hard to create a very safe environment. Playing rules which I’ve just described, equipment, boards and glass — doing things that keep the players safe in a sport where physical contact is encouraged in a closed environment.

There is an ongoing lawsuit against the league related to concussions. Can you comment?
BETTMAN:
Most of the medical experts have said hockey is not the same as football. We in conjunction with the players’ association, as early as 1997, were the first sports league to have a concussion study working group. We were the first sports league to do baseline testing. We were the first sports league to have protocols for diagnosis and return-to-play decisions. We were the first sports league to have a department of player safety. We changed the rules when appropriate. We have worked on equipment changes when appropriate. We have softened the boards and glass, and these are things that were leadership positions in sport for us. We believe there is no merit to the lawsuit and we’re going to continue to defend it.

Do you see fighting leaving the league at some point?
BETTMAN:
The game will continue to evolve. One school of thought says it’s always acted as a thermostat in a physical game that is emotional and where players are skating into each other and physical contact is encouraged, and, by the way, they’re carrying sticks. But again, you hit the point. A lot of teams decided, because it is so competitive, it is more important to have a skilled player on your fourth line. Fighting last season and this season are probably at their lowest levels ever. By the way, we penalize fighting, we always have. Things like bench-clearing brawls have disappeared — you have some of that in other sports, but we don’t have that. The issue of fighting gets a lot of commentary — far disproportionate to its role in the game and its role in the game will continue to evolve. Maybe at some point it will pick up; maybe it will become even less than it is now.

Many of the league’s top executives have been with you for quite some time — [Deputy Commissioner] Bill Daly joined the league in 1996.
BETTMAN:
(Laughs) Or [EVP, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel] David Zimmerman. Or [Group Vice President of Communications] Frank Brown. Or Debbie Jordan, my executive assistant and our senior VP of administration and HR, who has been with me for 35 years.

What do you think that says?
BETTMAN:
I think we have an extraordinarily talented group of people who love the game and love what they do. I think we have tried to foster a culture that is very family oriented. We place a priority on family. I tell executives — you’ve got a child in elementary school in a school play? Go see the play, and if you have to, go work later that night so you can do that. Even though we work hard and treat this as a lifestyle, we try to ensure there is the right balance. I think people like working here, and my wife said to me — she probably read an article that was critical — “you know, did anybody ever take a step back and ask — that’s why I was laughing when you asked — if you were so difficult a person, why would all these people be with you so long?” Including her, which is 45 years!

When [former NHL COO] John Collins left the league in November 2015, you took a more hands-on approach with the league’s other executives. What did you learn?
BETTMAN:
John was extraordinarily talented and creative and did some great things. But when he left, I thought it was time for a different management style in terms of the organization. Not that his was good or bad. … I wanted more collaboration. The more things we were doing, and the more complicated those things were, I thought it was more important that people collaborate and communicate and be less siloed, and that’s particularly what I’ve been trying to impart at the senior level, and they’ve been doing that in their departments. I think we’re working well as an organization, and I think people are having a better time.

“I’m a look-ahead kind of guy. People will define my legacy, it’s not for me to.”
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES


What’s on the horizon for the league?
BETTMAN:
We’re constantly looking for opportunities, things that we can try that would be different, innovative, exciting. We’ll look at a lot of them. Some will be worth doing, some won’t. Some we’ll try and won’t be successful, but ultimately we’re going to continue to press our limits beyond where they currently are and see what we can do to push ahead and create the level of interest and excitement around the game that has developed over the last few decades.

The league is pushing $4.5 billion in revenue — do you see a ceiling?
BETTMAN:
No. We’ve been growing at a very healthy rate, and I expect, and I know the owners and players expect, that we continue to grow. Everything that we’re doing is [based on] furthering growth. It’s not always in a dollar-and-cents metric, because we’re doing a lot of things to promote the game and fan engagement, and some of that in the short term won’t translate into increased revenue, but over time it will make the game — and the business of the game — stronger.

What keeps you up at night?
BETTMAN:
It starts with the game. We want to make sure the game is healthy, exciting, competitive, that it’s safe and that skilled players keep coming into the game. Hockey development is important to us. I don’t sleep a lot, but when I do sleep, it’s pretty good.

What do you do in your free time?
BETTMAN:
I watch a lot of hockey! I’ve been married for 41 years, I have six great kids, three of which we gave birth to and the other three they married. I’ve got three grandchildren with one on the way. Family is most important and we like to spend quality family time. I’ll play a little bit of golf socially, but I’m not a very good golfer because I don’t spend enough time doing it. I like to ski, and I like to read, but I binge read. I’ll read a book on a plane ride, but won’t pick another up for a month. Recreationally I mean, as I’m reading all the time. But I like working out, I’m fairly easygoing.

What genre do you enjoy most?
BETTMAN:
Histories and biographies. I like to see how people in other points and times and situations handled complicated matters. I’m a big buff for historical fiction.

What’s the best thing you’ve read recently?
BETTMAN:
“Team of Rivals [The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln]” by Doris Kearns Goodwin about Lincoln and how he brought together a very diverse group of people and managed to deal with some fundamentally difficult and important issues [by] building consensus. And getting people who might have disagreed with him to step up and do the right thing.

You grew up in New York, did you ever read “The Power Broker” by Robert Caro?
BETTMAN:
“The Power Broker” by Caro was awesome. And you know, I enjoy the “Killing” series by Bill O’Reilly. Last night on the plane I read the entirety of “Killing the Rising Sun.” His books are entertaining in their history.

Do you spend time thinking of how your tenure might be reflected on in a book like that?
BETTMAN:
No. I don’t do that. People say to me, “The league is celebrating its 100th anniversary, you’ll have been there 25 years.” And I say, “All that means is that I’m the oldest commissioner, OK.” I’m a look-ahead kind of guy. People will define my legacy, it’s not for me to, and frankly, I do the best I can, and I work hard at it, and I love what I do. That’s all you can ask for.

Looking ahead then, how much longer would you like to be commissioner?
BETTMAN:
I’m going to keep doing it as long as the owners believe in what I’m doing, and as long as I wake up like I do now every day — excited about what I do. I’m on no timetable, and while it’s been speculated that I have a number of years left on my contract, which is nice, the important thing is that I love what I do.

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