NHLs Bettman Has Plan To Keep Hockey A Big 4 Sport ‘Forever

NHLs Bettman Has Plan To Keep Hockey A Big 4 Sport ‘Forever

(Bloomberg) — Broadcasting is changing the way Americans watch sports. Gary Bettman has a plan for how the National Hockey League, which he has led as commissioner for three decades, will be in a strong position to take advantage.

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The league saw the value in digital sports rights in 2013 when it signed a 12-year deal with Rogers Communications Inc. In Canada, including mobile phone and satellite radio broadcasts. Then, in 2021, the NHL signed a seven-year deal with The Walt Disney Co., Ltd. Which will see some games air on ABC or ESPN, and many others exclusively on ESPN+ and Hulu.

"You'll see more development," Bateman, 70, said in an interview. "The flow will be more and more important, the national presence will be more important."

Keynote speakers at the Milken 2017 conference © Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg. Keynote speakers at the Milken 2017 conference

Live sports is one of the few reasons people still pay for cable TV, but the move to streaming services could hasten the demise and collapse of the major sports networks. The tech giants have struggled to keep up with customer demand since the National Football League announced earlier this month that it had licensed the rights to YouTube's coveted road game package from Alphabet Inc. Signed with Major League Baseball.

Sports leagues can't totally go out of style, Bateman said, but "you have to be flexible enough to keep up with trends and be willing to embrace them."

"Most importantly, you have to give your fans easy access at an affordable price," he said. “But when you look at millennials and Gen Z, they want more than just games. They want behind the scenes.”

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And that means more locker room shots and coverage of special events like the Boston Winter Classic on Jan. 2. The tournament also uses additional camera angles during the broadcast and more real-time data, including from the built-in sensor.


Hockey has an inherent advantage. It is indeed a more dynamic sport than others, so enthusiasts are unlikely to shy away from it for fear of missing out on an important moment. But additional content for The Batman ensures that fans will still be engaged when they return home.

"The slow pace makes young people use their phones and do other things," she said.

Bateman said there is "no news" that more young people are playing soccer than hockey. "This is not surprising given the barriers to entry," he said, "such as access to the ice rink and expensive equipment."

Despite his late entry, he rejected the notion that professional American football could overtake the NHL in popularity, jeopardizing its place among the so-called "Big Four", along with the NFL, NBA and MLB.

Our game is still in the Big Four and I think it will always be that way," he added that the NHL is comfortable playing 32 teams.

"We're not going to expand," Bateman said. “We receive expressions of interest that we always listen to very well. But I don't see anything in our near future.”

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2017 movie Stanley Cup Winners – Pittsburgh Penguins.

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