Speaking to a packed house at Town & Gown, National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman shared the keys to the league’s success in spite of the country’s economic doldrums.
In a dialogue led by David M. Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute, Bettman detailed how the NHL secured labor peace, drew record revenues and employed a series of fan-friendly initiatives. The audience included local sports industry leaders and USC alumni, as well as USC Marshall School of Business students interested in sports management careers.
Bettman has spent the past 30 years in professional sports, 12 of them with the National Basketball Association under commissioner David Stern. He has been pro hockey’s leader since 1993.
“Hockey fans are the most passionate, avid, affluent and tech-savvy” compared to fans of other professional sports, he asserted.
To cater to these fans, Bettman expanded hockey’s reach beyond traditional media outlets, taking advantage of the digital space that enabled his league to run hockey highlights on NHL.com, thus luring visitors to the site.
“Now our fans don’t have to wait for SportsCenter to show a 20-second clip of their team,” said Bettman, who added that sponsor activation has risen as advertisers realize that targeting the hockey audience is a way to efficiently reach key demographics, such as men between the ages of 18 and 49.
These issues are pertinent to the sports business industry as a whole, as explored by Carter in his book Money Games: Profiting From the Convergence of Sports and Entertainment, the result of a three-year research initiative which examines how the sports business industry can reach consumers whether they are at home, away from home or at venues.
For example, the advances in HDTV technology for home viewing “have made a bigger difference for us than anyone else,” Bettman said. “Now a fan sitting at home can see the puck more clearly, and the digital sounds captures the ice crunching under the skates and the players crashing against the boards.”
Still, Bettman noted, “the best experience we provide is in the arena, where our pricing is more reasonable than other sports.”
To prove his point, Bettman took a poll of local hockey executives in the room, who reported that the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks offer tickets starting at $10.
The Kings, Ducks and Farmer John co-sponsored the USC Sports Business Institute’s Commissioners’ Series event held Jan. 11.