As the Columbus Blue Jackets continue their playoff push tonight against the Dallas Stars, it’s not lost on NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman that Columbus had the 2013 All-Star Weekend, lost it because of the lockout, and now wants it back.
“We know we owe Columbus an All-Star Game,” he said via an email from NHL spokesman Frank Brown Thursday. “We are looking forward to formalizing our future events schedule (which should happen soon) and having one there in the future.”
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Bettman has always been supportive of the Columbus market. He worked side-by-side with the club to keep hockey in Columbus, making several visits to Central Ohio when the Nationwide Arena deal was being put together and then, don’t forget, the All-Star Game was awarded to Columbus long before the players looked like these 2013 Jackets.
And now that the product on the ice is starting to meet Bettman’s expectations—as well as the club’s—folks are starting to notice that winning brings national attention. And if Columbus ever wants to have the kind of NHL market enjoyed by the likes of Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, etc…it first needs to win—then it needs the national exposure that winning brings.
The All-Star Game will help that. So will the CBJ’s run this season. But do they need a couple more years to really start reaping the benefits of nationally televised games and positive stories in the national media?
“Our national media partners, and the national media at-large, know a strong and positive story when it emerges and usually are quick to cover it in response to the interests of their audience,” said Bettman. “That said, national exposure isn’t something that necessarily follows a timeline and it wouldn’t be proper for me to suggest one. Suffice it to say: This has been an important season for reinforcing the Blue Jackets’ competitive credibility and that advancement has been noticed widely.”
It’s a pleasing scenario for Bettman.
“I have always had tremendous confidence in Columbus as a National Hockey League market and the ownership of the Blue Jackets. The support of the fans, year-in and year-out, has only served to reinforce that confidence,” said Bettman. “Nationwide Arena is a truly outstanding venue, and it has been terrific to watch the Arena District emerge as a top destination for Blue Jackets fans and visitors to the city. The Columbus organization has taken a significant step forward this year, which is great for the fans.”
It’s also great for management—John Davidson said he would build brick-by-brick, and he’s making moves as such for the long-term. But the immediate success is something Bettman couldn’t be happier for both the fans and the man behind the change.
“I’m pleased for John McConnell, Mike Priest, John Davidson and everyone in the organization who has worked so energetically to put the best possible team on the ice and reward the faith the fans have shown,” said Bettman. “This has been a dynamic season for the Blue Jackets—one of change and of growth—and it has followed the ‘brick by brick’ approach John Davidson brought to building this team for the long-term.”
But it’s more than just Columbus that benefits from a run like the Blue Jackets have accomplished. It’s good for the league, too.
When asked just how important are underdog stories like the Blue Jackets to the league itself—to have fans see more than just the “big” teams like Boston, New York, L.A., Chicago, Detroit, perform well, Bettman was quick to point out that it takes time for a newer market like Columbus to get a foothold in the NHL. But once it does, storied clubs then become permanent fixtures in the lexicon of NHL’ers.
“It’s important to remember that one of the reasons the teams you mentioned are viewed as “big” teams is that they have entertained generations of fans since they entered the League; they are familiar figures on the sports landscape because their track records have been established over decades,” said Bettman. “It takes time for younger teams and newer markets to establish their own individual traditions, and the surge the Blue Jackets have created this season will help significantly as they build theirs. Sports fans love intriguing story lines and exciting news, and the Blue Jackets have provided both this season.”
He also added: “In addition, because of the system under our Collective Bargaining Agreement, the incredible competitive balance of our League blurs the distinctions on the ice between so-called ‘big-market’ teams and others.”
You can catch the Blue Jackets continue their playoff push tonight at 8:30 p.m. against the Dallas Stars on Fox Sports Ohio.