Bettman touts outdoor hockey game at Soldier Field
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is a year removed from canceling
preseason games in the early stages of the league’s lockout of its
Now there are rising television ratings, along with
participation in another Winter Olympics and settled ownership in
Phoenix and New Jersey.
So where does the NHL go from here?
”We just want more of the same,” Bettman said Thursday at a
promotion for the March 1 outdoor game between the Chicago
Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field. ”We want to
continue to build off the foundation we have. The game on the ice
is as strong as it’s ever been. And we’re looking to continue to
find ways to connect with our fans that will energize our fan base
and grow it.”
The league expanded the outdoor schedule from one game, the New
Year’s Day Winter Classic, to six this season, including two games
at Yankee Stadium and one at Dodger Stadium. Bettman considers the
big-event strategy important in generating interest in the NHL.
”This game, all the outdoor games, are one element of it,”
Bettman said. ”We have the Olympics and we have what we think will
be an exciting, competitive season. We’re going to continue to
grow. Our fan engagement, not just TV ratings, but through social
media and NHL.com, is growing.”
Russia’s recent passage of an anti-gay law has caused concern
among some connected with the Sochi Winter Olympics. Bettman said
this week that NHL players will participate despite the law banning
what Russia calls propaganda of nontraditional sexual
”That’s not something we think is appropriate, to say the
least,” Bettman said. ”But in the final analysis, and I believe
our players feel the same way, they’re going to go, to compete hard
for their countries, because that’s important to them.
”I’m not sure it’s easy for sports to ever get involved with
politics, but we have a responsibility to make clear that that’s
not representative of what we believe is the right thing.”
The NHL partnered with You Can Play, a group started in April by
Philadelphia scout Patrick Burke, whose late brother Brendan was
”When it comes to diversity and inclusiveness, I think our
record has been very clear,” Bettman said.
While NHL players will travel to Sochi, he doesn’t foresee
expansion to Europe, something that’s been occasionally considered
for more than 30 years.
”It’s really hard to do, some of it logistics,” Bettman said.
”We want to be good citizens in the institutional hockey world,
but there is a growing interest throughout the world. That’s
something we’re going to continue to try to satisfy.”
Some European-born NHL players have moved back to the continent,
especially to the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League. Ilya
Kovalchuk, with New Jersey last season, returned to his homeland by
signing with SKA St. Petersburg this summer.
The outdoor game in Chicago is the only one scheduled after the
Olympics. Soldier Field, which holds 61,500 for football games,
will have a rink placed in the middle of the field. In February,
about 52,000 fans attended a college hockey doubleheader co-hosted
by Wisconsin and Notre Dame.
The last Winter Classic in Chicago was a sellout between
Blackhawks and Detroit at Wrigley Field on Jan. 1, 2009. Blackhawks
president John McDonough expects a full house next year at Soldier
”There’s going to be great, great demand for this game,”
McDonough said. ”You can be sure we’re going to be asking to host
The Blackhawks are the first team to host two outdoor games.
”This combination catches the imagination and gives our fans a
special experience,” Bettman said. ”For the teams involved, fans
can’t get enough of it. We think we can manage this, put on all six