The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman highlights outdoor hockey game at Soldier Field on March 1

  • Print

CHICAGO - NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is a year removed from cancelling preseason games in the early stages of the league's lockout of its players.

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 relations.

"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 gay.

"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 Field.

"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 another one."

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 games well."

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Winnipeg Cheapskate: Election Edition

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A group of Horese pose for the camera in the early evening light at Southcreek Stables in Stl Norbert Wednessday. Sept  14, 2011 (RUTH BONNEVILLE) / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Someone or thing is taking advantage of the inactivity at Kapyong Barracks,hundreds of Canada Geese-See Joe Bryksa’s goose a day for 30 days challenge- Day 15- May 22, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Who will you vote for in Wednesday's mayoral race?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google