Friday, November 21st, 2014

An Invisible Commissioner

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I can’t imagine any scenario that sees the owners choosing to fire Gary Bettman. (And even if they did choose to get rid of him, they would hire somebody else just like him.) An actual hockey commissioner is an impossible dream. Another impossible dream? If the hockey media simply decided to ignore him. But why not?

What is the point of this story from Roy Macgregor? Bettman says absolutely nothing that he hasn’t already said a dozen, two dozen, a hundred times before. When was the last time anybody heard anything new from him? His press conference at the All Star Game? Why bother?

While Bettman is master of the stock answers that usually match, word for word, what he said months earlier, he can at times become animated and spontaneous, even angry. Accuse the league of duplicity on any issue – such as not caring enough to act properly on head shots – or accuse him of sabotaging the potential deals with Balsillie for personal reasons, and he leaps to his own and the league’s defence.

“Don’t challenge my integrity,” he says, voice rising. “This is what we do. This is what I do and [deputy commissioner] Bill Daly does and [league disciplinarian] Colin Campbell does. It is what we do and we do it with passion. You can’t function if you blow with the wind. Why would you do anything but the right thing, or at least what you believe to be the right thing?”

This phony anger is merely another stock answer he has down pat. His voice rises – with “spontaneous” anger – every time his integrity or the league’s integrity is questioned. Bettman always does what he believes is the right thing, but that’s not necessarily a good thing the game or for us or for the players because he defines the right thing as whatever best protects the wallets of the owners. Nothing else matters to him. That is his job.

He has integrity problems because he is frequently disingenuous, and because he frequently pretends he cares more about the game, the fan or the players than he cares about the money. After years and years of that nonsense his credibiliy is in tatters.

Wouldn’t it be a good thing for everyone if Gary Bettman was never seen or heard from again? He can do his job for his employers without annoying the rest of us. Who would miss him? Why can’t the Commissioner be invisible?

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Comments

20 Responses to “An Invisible Commissioner”
  1. beingbobbyorr says:

    What is the point of this story from Roy Macgregor?

    The thing that resonated with me were some of the personal touches . . . .

    (a) Like Bettman, some of my best hockey watching experiences were the years I used to take my twin nephews to some Kings & Ducks games. Nothing to do with the particular games themselves, of course, but seeing the eye-popping, jaw-dropping wonder as a pair of 4/5/6-year-olds took in this whole new experience was more joyful than any come-from-behind victory or nifty toe-drag I’d ever seen.

    (b) Like Bettman, I’m also the only child of divorced parents, from a time & place where this could still be perceived as a stigma that one tried hard to shield from one’s peers. All of a sudden, his defensiveness makes a whole lot of sense.

    The “Don’t challenge my integrity,” quote, though, is really indefensible for a 58-year-old executive. Why can’t we challenge your integrity, Mr. B? You’ve nothing to fear if you can defend it. This smelled like a similar faux-anger defense, by AEG honcho Tim Leiweke, of Luc Robitaille’s rocket-like ascension to President of the LA Kings business operations, miraculously leapfrogging scores of in-house business professionals armed with 20+ years of experience & MBAs. I’m sure the fact that Teflon Boy, err, I mean Lucky Luc, is beloved beyond all reason — and would have to pull a “The Aristocrats” on his own children to garner a hint of fan criticism — didn’t have anything to do with it.

    He can do his job for his employers without annoying the rest of us.

    But a big part of his job, for better or worse, is marketing, and that requires visibility. It sounds as though you want to re-define his job. Fair enough, but somebody’s got to do the marketing part of it, and if not him, then who? And what mixture of business, legal, and hockey experience ought they have to make him less annoying to TB (or the rest of us)?

    Who would miss him?

    The MSM whose coin is Inside Access.

    PS — I call shenanigans on the alleged fan yelling “Love the product!” to Gary. What sports fan refers to his sport/league-of-choice as a “product”? I mean, I know fans are more savvy about the business side of the games, but this jumps the shark.

    • Gerald says:

      Just about every professional and every serious businessman with whom I have ever interacted values their integrity very highly. What’s more, they take significant umbrage at challenges to it. It is not a question of “fearing challenges”, BBO. That is not the point at all. The point is, if you challenge the person’s integrity, expect a forceful reply.

      You find something wrong, or false, with that?

      • Tom says:

        They trot out the guy two to three times a year, which is the bare minimum for a league chief executive – an interview at the allstar game (which didn’t even happen this year), once during the stanley cup playoffs (for an interview on CBC) and once for about forty-five seconds to give the Cup to the winning team.

        I agree that the NHL keeps him away from the spotlight. They know he is despised.This is two or three times too many. He doesn’t have to do any of these ceremonial things either. He doesn’t have to go to games. I’m just saying that I wish the Canadian media ignored him and his press conferences. Let him sit in his corner office and count his money.

        Just about every professional and every serious businessman with whom I have ever interacted values their integrity very highly.

        Just like the head of AIG, Enron, Worldcom, Bernie Madoff etcetera, etcetera. I don’t think Bettman has any integrity. If he thinks he does, well, all professionals, businessmen and corporate lawyers do, don’t they?

        I don’t believe his “anger” about it, but if it is genuine, who cares? Not me.

        • Gerald says:

          Just like the head of AIG, Enron, Worldcom, Bernie Madoff etcetera, etcetera. I don’t think Bettman has any integrity. If he thinks he does, well, all professionals, businessmen and corporate lawyers do, don’t they?

          Wow, you’re actually citing AIG/Enron/Worldcom/Madoff as evidence of anything, other than that there are some bad people in the world? By that logic, since there are NON-businessmen/professionals/lawyers who are in jail too, I guess that’s proof that everyone’s a bad person? Of course not; that only goes to point out the ludicrous nature of your position. I have always been more than a little curious as to why you demonize businessmen, lawyers and (perhaps) other professionals so much. I wonder what need you serve in doing so.

          All us business guys are just rapacious gangsters, I guess. We’re certainly not people, that’s for sure. Same for us lawyers, too. And those of us who are both businessmen AND lawyers? Whoo boy.

          I don’t think Bettman has any integrity.

          Of course you don’t, based on your intimate knowledge of the guy on a personal level.

          I don’t believe his “anger” about it, but if it is genuine, who cares? Not me.

          Really? You don’t care? Your post, and in fact your history of posts, demonstrates the opposite to me. Just my view, of course. Only you know for sure, right?

          • Tom says:

            Wow, you’re actually citing AIG/Enron/Worldcom/Madoff as evidence of anything, other than that there are some bad people in the world?

            I’d also cite the entire financial industry in the United States. Or the health insurance industry. Or the mining industry. The food industry. What industry or corporation would you hold up as a paragon of virtue? Which one doesn’t try to externalize their costs, skirt regulation, discourage enforcement, and buy legislation?

            The people who run these organizations may not have behaved criminally, but ethics? Integrity? The only thing that matters is corporate profits and executive bonuses. They consistently give short shrift to employee safety, product safety, and environmental issues despite pious claims to the contrary.

            Do you honestly believe that I – or anyone else – should give them the benefit of the doubt as to their integrity? How many examples do I need? If you think that is unfair, blame the bad apples, not the people who think the whole barrel is spoiled.

          • Gerald says:

            Spoken by someone who has never set foot inside a corporate boardroom, made decisions or has any sense of how companies are run.

            You have no idea what you are talking about. i thought about responding to your post sentence by sentence, but the fact is that it is rubbish from start to finish. Every single word of it displays a complete lack of understanding of how things work.

            That said, I know that you will never believe anything to the contrary.

            As an aside, I would appreciate you letting me know exactly how far down these sociopathic tendencies go in corporations. Board Directors? Senior VP and above? VP’s? General managers?? Managers? Foremen? Or is it rotten right through to the guy sweeping the floors or the assistants typing up nefarious memos on behalf of their VP bosses? And at what point does someone become this sort of sociopath? If they are a general manager of a department, they are okay, but once they become a VP they suddenly lose all those values and become a criminal? How does that transformation take place? One second they are just a guy trying to make an honest living, and the day after they are promoted, they turn into snarling, rapacious corporate raiders?

            It is not a question of whether I think it is unfair. I am simply incredulous, and for good reason.

      • beingbobbyorr says:

        Just about every professional and every serious businessman with whom I have ever interacted values their integrity very highly.

        Just about every high-level corporate leader I have ever interacted with values the image of their integrity very highly, . . . . and they hope that nobody notices the contradictions between words and deeds. I’m witnessing these subtle distinctions on a massive scale in my own firm. I have a hypothesis about this that I’m mulling over as part of a dissertation about the management problems in said firm.

        The point is, if you challenge the person’s integrity, expect a forceful reply.

        You find something wrong, or false, with that?

        I agree a forceful reply would be expected . . . . if you’re sandbagging somebody who doesn’t routinely get such challenges & who genuinely believes they’re above suspicion. But surely after 18 years Bettman has heard every criticism of him imaginable (short of IRS/SEC-calibre fraud). He should have scripted, canned responses, or at least be prepared with a few bullet points . . . . if not the flaw may lie in his staff for not preparing him appropriately, but he should know that flying off the handle sends unsettling shock waves through his own organization (and their partners).

        • Gerald says:

          Just about every high-level corporate leader I have ever interacted with values the image of their integrity very highly, . . . . and they hope that nobody notices the contradictions between words and deeds. I’m witnessing these subtle distinctions on a massive scale in my own firm. I have a hypothesis about this that I’m mulling over as part of a dissertation about the management problems in said firm.

          It is puzzling to me why someone would be so apparently cavalier to ascribe a lack of integrity to others over decisions with which they disagree. I don’t know the details of your situation, but you certainly seem to have made up your mind.

          I agree a forceful reply would be expected . . . . if you’re sandbagging somebody who doesn’t routinely get such challenges & who genuinely believes they’re above suspicion.

          I am not sure what world you are living in, but attacks on someone’s integrity are generally considered to be repulsive whether you get one or a hundred. When Tom asserts that lawyers or businessmen as a group are scumbags, I am offended every time he does it. The fact that he has said it to me or others so many times does not make it more palatable.

          he should know that flying off the handle sends unsettling shock waves through his own organization (and their partners).

          Huh? “Flying off the handle”? Who said anything about flying off the handle? Certainly not MacGregor or Bettman. I have seen and listened to dozens of Bettman interviews over the years, and one thing that you can say definitively about the guy (whether detractor or non-detractor) is that Bettman does not do “flying off the handle” – at least in public.

          • beingbobbyorr says:

            It is puzzling to me why someone would be so apparently cavalier to ascribe a lack of integrity to others over decisions with which they disagree.

            It only appears to be cavalier to you because you don’t know the details, an enumeration of which would take — well, a dissertation — way beyond the scope of this blog. The contradictions in the words vs. behavior of my firm’s leadership has been pointed out to them for a decade, with no effect on their behavior. Ergo, the lack-of-integrity accusation.

            I am not sure what world you are living in, . . . . .

            Again with the ad hominem attacks. But FTR, I’m an engineer, which, all other things being equal (yea, I know, they usually aren’t) puts a premium on facts & logic; not so much on sophistry, which rules the roost in another profession-that-dare-not-speak-it’s-name.

            . . . . but attacks on someone’s integrity are generally considered to be repulsive whether you get one or a hundred.

            The issue isn’t whether the accusee is repulsed. The issue is whether they’ve heard/read such accusations many times before (and should therefore own a more prepared, reasoned response . . . . and if they are really bright, said response, and the calmness with which it’s delivered, turns the tables on their accuser).

            When Tom asserts that lawyers or businessmen as a group are scumbags, I am offended every time he does it.

            Sounds like somebody’s been reading http://www.peikoff.com/opar/home.htm

            Good to see you’re coming around, Gerald! :)

            The fact that he has said it to me or others so many times does not make it more palatable.

            Within the limited context of this blog, you’ve always struck me as a middle-of-the-road, defend-the-status-quo sort of fellow. That’s not unexpected, nor is it intended to be an attack on you (man’s gotta make a living, and, given the $$$ to be made by the byzantine machinations of our US & Canadian legal/regulatory state, who could really fault a lawyer in that environment?). But, the pragmatic fence-straddling that it takes to justify those politics isn’t going to provide you with the intellectual ammunition to attack the philosophical basis for the left’s blanket condemnation (which TB seems grounded in) of capitalism & individual rights.

          • Gerald says:

            Again with the ad hominem attacks. But FTR, I’m an engineer, which, all other things being equal (yea, I know, they usually aren’t) puts a premium on facts & logic; not so much on sophistry, which rules the roost in another profession-that-dare-not-speak-it’s-name.

            Again with the accusation of ad hominem attacks. Surely you can’t continue to lean on that faulty crutch after all these years of arguing here. I am clearly stating that i don’t know what your experience is. Is that an ad hominem attack? Perhaps it is beneficial to characterize it as such and thereby dismiss it when you are out of rhetorical ammunition.

            On the other hand, a sideways swipe at someone’s profession – and accompanying dismissal of another’s views simply because they are a member of that profession – is the VERY DEFINITION of an ad hominem attack. I, on the other hand, could not care less about the nature of your profession. I have worked with many engineers side by side for a couple of decades now, and while many of them share certain characteristics both favourable and unfavourable, I would not ascribe any of them to you, not having met you. Just to clarify your misperception about lawyers, we rely on facts as well. We are just better than others at marshalling them. Being the recipient of a well-structured argument or position often feels like sophistry to the recipient; frustration will do that. ;-)

            Sounds like somebody’s been reading http://www.peikoff.com/opar/home.htm Good to see you’re coming around, Gerald! .

            Yikes. Feel free to assume that, if i ever start following Rand, you can take that as evidence that I have lost my marbles. Seriously, where did you get that from my post?

            the pragmatic fence-straddling that it takes to justify those politics isn’t going to provide you with the intellectual ammunition to attack the philosophical basis for the left’s blanket condemnation (which TB seems grounded in) of capitalism & individual rights.

            Rest assured, I have more than enough intellectual ammo to address any approach from an ideologue. Intellectual ammunition is not related to the fact that one decides to take a dogmatic approach to everything in life and see things through a single prism. If i remember correctly, you are an acolyte of objectivism (or libertarianism, at least) – both of which philosophies attract strict adherents. i suppose one can be a little bit libertarian, but objectivism is an all-or-nothing endeavour. So, i can see where you might think that pure ideology is the only proper intellectually rigourous approach. I am not sure what to tell you, other than that you are misguided if you actually believe that. Taking a more nuanced philosophical approach is actually IMO the more intellectually rigourous and challenging approach.

            FTR, I am actually in real life someone who challenges the status quo. At work, it is kind of my “thing” to ask people why we are doing something in a particular way, particularly when I see that people are just doing things in a certain way only because that is how it is usually done.

  2. snafu says:

    I agree. The man has no charisma, and marketing and work in front of the camera (in order to be effective) requires a tiny bit of it. If the NHL owners really feel they need a commissioner who can speak for them and raise good will, they need someone other than Bettman.

    As far as looking out for the owners’ wallets? I’m not so sure he can help them there either. I know he tries, but when you go after the wrong economic problems, you’re not going to get better. Yes, I know the league’s HRR has grown, and it seems that the NHL has contributed more from the Winter Classic and increases in sponsorships, etc., but the cap floor is soon to be nearly as high as the lowest tier of teams’ revenues. How’s that for cost certainty? It will take 90% of your HRR to cover player costs.

    No wonder everyone is selling.

    As an aside, how many teams will have turned over in ownership in the last ten years?

  3. Tom says:

    If Bettman does not do a good job of protecting the wallet, he would be fired. I would imagine that Bettman does a good job on the corporate sales side – he’s probably an adept schmoozer, one sleaze good at bribing – er selling to – another corporate sleaze.

    But I don’t think he sells a single ticket to a single fan. If his name was never heard again, and his face was never seen again, I’d guess it would cost the NHL nothing.

    • beingbobbyorr says:

      But I don’t think he sells a single ticket to a single fan.

      Not that I applaud him for this, but . . . . he sold a lockout & a lost season to millions of fans who came back (more or less) en masse. I’d say that qualifies as selling a ticket.

  4. Gerald says:

    Where do you, or anyone else, get this seeming idea (correct me if i am mistaken) that the NHL pushes Bettman as the public face of the NHL? It is a demonstrably false suggestion.

    They trot out the guy two to three times a year, which is the bare minimum for a league chief executive – an interview at the allstar game (which didn’t even happen this year), once during the stanley cup playoffs (for an interview on CBC) and once for about forty-five seconds to give the Cup to the winning team.

    The guy is heard from a bare minimum number of times in other circumstances. He gets briefly interviewed a few other times when the media tracks him down.

    The reason why he is not “invisible” is because Canadian hockey fans and the Canadian hockey media regard him as their constant bete noir. He is viewed by them as being manifestly unfit to run their league and safeguard their game, and consequently they dwell on him ad nauseum.

    Regarding the above comment about charisma, charisma is the thing that provokes a reaction from someone else. People who have no charisma generate little to no reaction from a listener. No one who has spent thirty seconds listening to Gary Bettman can say with a straight face that he generates no reaction. Clearly, on a personal level he has a significant amount of popularity with those who actually work with him.

  5. Boxcar says:

    His only popularity is with his fellow flunkys, lackeys, and butt kissers, see Mr Campbell, Mr Murphy and Mr Shanahan. The average Canadian fan looks at him like an evil gome. Our problem is we look at the game as a game. These owners and league execs look at it as a way to seperate as much money from each “fan” as possible to fund their “Hobby Hockey Teams” The players are all to willing to chase the carrot of being a GM or working for the league one day, so they follow the company line. Maybe Mr Fehr will at least give the NHLPA a little back bone and make life a little more miserable for Mr Bettman.
    If you really want to hear some drivel check out Mr Bettman’s radio show on XM, otherwise I’m with Tom, ignore him and maybe he’ll go away.

  6. Tom says:

    You have no idea what you are talking about. i thought about responding to your post sentence by sentence, but the fact is that it is rubbish from start to finish. Every single word of it displays a complete lack of understanding of how things work.

    Nice argument, Gerald. I’m reminded of the old joke. If the facts are on your side, argue the facts. If the law is on your side argue the law. If neither is on your side, pound the table.

    As an aside, I would appreciate you letting me know exactly how far down these sociopathic tendencies go in corporations. Board Directors? Senior VP and above? VP’s? General managers?? Managers? Foremen?

    I think Robert Hare has done convincing research on sociopaths and so I think your use of the word is apt.

    • Gerald says:

      Tom, we both know that the point is that your post displays such a POV that there is no point debating it with you. Your post is such a caricature that there is simply nothing to say.

      THe facts are on my side, so your “old joke” is irrelevant.

      I chose the word “sociopath” on purpose for you. You clearly believe that all executives are sociopaths (as opposed to psychopaths, which I believe is Hare’s topic), ignoring the fact that every executive was also a non-executive for much of their career. I have no doubt that you’d REALLY like Hare. He is right up your ally, no?

      • Tom says:

        You haven’t made an argument. You’ve waved your hands and pounded the table. All I’ve really said is that enough of the clowns who run corporations (and those who advise them) have behaved so badly, the entire class is tarnished. They have no right to the benefit of the doubt as to their integrity. Your case is supposed to be either a) Corporations do not behave that badly or b) We should believe the executives have integrity anyway because…

        Sociopath and psychopath are interchangeable terms. I don’t believe all executives are psychopaths. I do believe that psychopaths born to abusive famlies can easily become violent criminals and psychopaths born into good families can do very well in the corporate world. Not having a conscience is apparently an advantage.

        • Gerald says:

          Making an argument to the demonization of an entire group of people is a mug’s game that gives more credit to the demonizer than they are worthy of receiving. It would be akin to responding to a bigot with a reasoned argument against why they feel that the [fill in race they are bigoted against] is not [fill in the rationale for the bigotry].*** Your position is silly, and would be laughable if it were not so pernicious. Do I or anyone else need to tell you that it is wrong to judge members of an entire class of people as a whole, based on one characteristic (in this case, something as superficial as their JOB TITLE)? Did you not learn that when you were 2 or 3 years old?

          *** note: I am not suggesting that you are a bigot, Tom. I am simply using an analogy in response to the notion that your demonization of a group of people based on the level of their position actually deserves a detailed response.

          Of course, I see that, after demonizing an entire class of people based on their job title, you now suggest that “[not] all executives are psychopaths”. If you felt that, you would not have clearly inferred it in the first place (to say nothing of having reflected that philosophy in a hundred or more posts in the past).

          IF you want to talk about nice arguments, of course, you could answer my previosu questions, which were how non-executives become sociopaths/psychopaths all of a sudden when they get that final promotion, which promotion is the one which turns them into sociopaths/psychopaths, how far down the corporate ladder do the sociopaths/psychopaths extend, or other useful questions, like how big does a company have to be before it is run by sociopaths/psychopaths (is it only the megacompanies like GE/Enron/Worldcom, or does it apply to mid-size $100M+ companies, or even the CEO of the corner store in my neighbourhood), as well as whether the leaders of the major unions, which are large sized organizations with their own politics, etc. are also sociopaths/psychopaths. The mind boggles.

          Or maybe people are just people, notwithstanding their job title or position or industry, and some people are mostly good and others are mostly bad, and every gradation in between.

          Heck, if you were to have responded “Don’t worry, Gerald, I am not singling out executives, I think most people are inherently bad and only act good when others are watching, if at all”, I could at least understand that POV while rejecting it as incompatible with my own. I would at least understand it as a cogent, if regrettable, unified philosophy of mistrust and negativism. That is not my understanding of your view, though, based on your history and the above discussion. You felt that one’s job title condemns them.

          By the way, there are actually many in the field who would argue with you that sociopath and psychopath are by no means interchangeable terms. That is a much more detailed discussion, though, that is beyond the topic of this blog.

          Don’t get me wrong. Your philosophy is your philosophy. Heck, you are probably in your 50s or 60s; I couldn’t change your ingrained views if I wanted to. I apologize for simply getting tired of being insulted for having a particular job title.

  7. Tom says:

    Do I or anyone else need to tell you that it is wrong to judge members of an entire class of people as a whole, based on one characteristic

    Nice try. I am judging a class of people based on their behaviour, not who they are. My views are based on what they have done and what they do. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    Would you expect kindness from an SS trooper in 1943? If I expected cruelty, am I wrong to judge the entire class of people because of the uniform they wear? Am I wrong if I declare that people who wear sheets and lynch blacks are racist? Am I wrong to say that those whose objective is to amass profit while socializing risk are not to be trusted?

    I think not. (And no, I’m not calling you either a Nazi or a racist.)

    Oh, and a sociopath is a sociopath whether he is a janitor or the CEO. The theory is that the entry level executive who has some empathy and a social conscience will not do as well in the corporate world as those who are entirely self centred. Minnows are winnowed and sharks survive.

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