Gary Bettman

Kept sponsors despite losing entire season

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Now that we're a year removed from the National Hockey League's canceled season, can you talk about how you were able to keep all your sponsors on board?

Last season was about relaunching our game under extraordinary circumstances. There are few, if any, businesses-not just professional sports-that could endure not operating for a year and then come back to record attendance and record revenue. It's testament to our great fans and the strength of the brand. We had to use all of our assets to re-engage our fans.

Did you feel like you had to reintroduce the brand?

No, it was really to reconnect. When you look at the makeup of NHL fans-putting aside that they tend to be the most affluent, best educated and most tech-savvy of all the sports-they're also the most connected. Our fans understood what we were doing during the work stoppage, and they were supportive. The place where we could have gotten into trouble was if we didn't openly fix our problems.

Can you talk about the next phase of your marketing push?

One of the best results of what was accomplished was the partnership with the players, particularly as it relates to their accessibility to our business partners and the media. ... We have an unprecedented level of cooperation, and we're using that to tell stories about our game and about our players in ways we haven't before.

You've done a great job with, where traffic is up 100% over last year.

We believe that with our tech-savvy fan base, while television will be important, sports leagues will need to connect with their fans through new media. This is something that is getting priority attention.

Your buddy David Stern is quite involved in the marketing end of the NBA. How involved are you in reaching out to your sponsors, to TV?

I am involved and accessible. I wouldn't compare myself to anybody else. While I don't believe in micromanaging, I believe a sports commissioner needs to be involved; needs to be a cheerleader; and, in our case over the last couple of years, needed to be accessible to explain what was going on because we were in rather unique circumstances.
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