Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Conspiracy Theory

An interesting article came out yesterday on Yahoo Sports. Dan Wetzel writes about his conspiracy theory about how Gary Bettman was hired by the NHL. He writes that Bettman may have had his name put forward by David Stern, the NBA commissioner, because Stern was scared of the NHL. The NHL was in a position to catapult past the NBA in popularity. Since the NHL and NBA share several stadiums, this is particularly troubling if the NHL gets all the prime dates. The NHL was looking for a commissioner to replace outgoing president Gil Stein. Stern suggested his assistant Gary Bettman. He figured that Bettman would not be up to the job and with him out the the NBA and running the NHL, it would reduce competition with the NHL.

Although I do not have any reason to believe that this actually occurred (I also cannot show that it didn't), it is an interesting theory. Gary Bettman has not done well as NHL commissioner. The league lost an entire season to a lockout and is having trouble attracting fans in many US markets. They are making changes that alienate the fans in existing markets in order to try to woo fans in the failing ones. They are stuck in the TV oblivion of Versus and have no major US network TV deal in sight. Bettman's reign has certainly led to the NHL becoming a largely irrelevant competitor to the NBA on a national American level. If Stern did this, it certainly has worked well for the NBA.

In order to have a believable conspiracy, there must be a means and a motive for it being carried out (in this case Stern's worries about the NHL competition and his ability as NBA commissioner to give a glowing reference for Bettman) and a means for the story to have been kept silent (its entirely possible that only Stern was "in" on this manoeuvre - which would make it easy to keep quiet). This is a believable conspiracy - but that definitely doesn't make it true. We may never be able to verify its truth or falsity.

What is most interesting about this story is that it is proof that members of the mainstream media are definitely not behind Gary Bettman. Dan Wetzel, who wrote it, is a longstanding Yahoo Sports writer who has authored several sports books (mostly basketball) . This is where open criticism of Gary Bettman's NHL in the mainstream media will start. Yahoo Sports is not closely tied to the NHL. If the NHL has problems, it doesn't affect them in any significant way. Dan Wetzel is a writer for several sports, most commonly basketball. He is not going to anger potential sources for future stories or affect his bottomline if the NHL has problems. This is unlike the hockey beat writer in your local paper or a TSN personality like Bob McKenzie. They need to be on good terms with the NHL to maintain their access and they depend on the NHL's success for their future prospects. However, once the meme that Gary Bettman is a problem that the NHL is better off without gets into the mainstream, it will be hard for it to die. Most likely it will lead to the downfall of Gary Bettman and a new direction for the NHL, if it gets that far. This might be foreshadowing some interesting changes in the NHL.

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