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Book Report: The Instigator How Gary Bettman Remade the NHL and Changed the Game Forever

The timing of this book's release makes it kind of hard for some folks to read. But I highly recommend it, and really it's up to you to read it now.

Rich Lam

The timing of this book's release makes it kind of hard for some folks to read. But I highly recommend it, and really it's up to you to read it now. It's a good overall look at some history of the league as a business and where it was and where it is now. Besides any book that starts with someone dodging a beer being thrown at them while awarding Tim Thomas the Conn Smythe in Vancouver on June 15th, it's got to be worth the read!

Jonathon Gatehouse does an excellent job of painting the man, the business of the NHL and his involvement – good and bad. This book is full of information and makes the life of a lawyer seem very interesting. Its obvious Gatehouse got great access and there are some great stories and details in this book.

The book then goes into background on Bettman, how he grew up - paints him as a likable guy. Growing up with a single mom and working hard and making his way through law school and marrying his college sweetheart.Bettman is father to three and grandfather to two young children. One of his grandchildren is a big New Jersey Devils fan; Bettman will take his grandson to Devils games undercover - unshaven, ball cap and jeans.

Detail on his time with Prosauker Rose and his relationship with NBA commissioner David Stern. Eventually his work with the NBA laid the groundwork for what have become his successes in the NHL. Good TV contract, change of image, and stronger sponsors. The book also links Bettman to the NBA CBA negotiations and framework.

The book then moves on to more detail throughout the Commissioner’s rule of the NHL. I enjoyed how this book was laid out, rather than moving chronologically, it details topics from start to finish and Bettman’s involvement in them.

There is a little history of the NHL & NHLPA – and how it links to the lockouts to 1994-1995, 2004-2005 and how it might lead to a lockout in 2012-13 seasons. This could be and should be it’s own book. There are similarities in all three lockouts. I find these details fascinating and I’d love to read more on this. It’s very clear that Bettman spends more time on the ownership of the league that working on maintain and growing the league. It’s also clear the owners are concerned about their own markets over the overall health of the league. That has to be a lot to manage. I also find it fascinating that the league is so concerned with the cost of labor over finding other ways to generate revenue streams. The NHL relies so heavily on their ticket revenue and doesn’t work hard enough to grown the revenue in other ways to help combat the rising cost of labor.

I really enjoyed reading about the leaving and return of the Winnipeg Jets. I know losing an American market team isn’t what all hockey fans like, but I loved reading about this. It was really interesting to see how dedicated Mark Chipman was to getting the Jets back into town. I didn’t enjoy reading so much about Phoenix. Maybe it’s because I like stories with happy endings.

I would have enjoyed reading more about securing sponsors and TV contracts, but the information was amazing. While Bettman has recently secured the NBC rights, due in large part to his days with the NBA and the relationships formed there. Whether you like NBC announcers or not – there’s no denying that NBC is working hard to make the NHL appointment television with the Winter Classic & Thanksgiving showdown games. In addition, having the resources to show every NHL Playoff game across their family of networks is something that couldn’t have been done previously – and shows the NHL at it’s finest time. There is also detail about the contract deals with ESPN and FOX. Remember the glowing puck? Meanwhile in Canada, he’s got the TSN and CBC outbidding each other for the rights. Same can be said for sponsors – in the US the NHL is constantly trying to secure sponsors and in Canada the NHL is pitting sponsors against one another.

Overall it’s a wonderful book if you are interested in the business of the NHL. Gary Bettman is an interesting man, and I know that I couldn’t do the job of Commissioner of the NHL, but I was glad to read this to get a better understanding of him and the job he does. Obviously 3 lockouts in 20 years is an easy stat to criticize (and rightfully so!) but there’s no denying the game has grown in the last 20 years and Gary Bettman has to get credit for that. While I really did enjoy the way the book was presented (by topic as opposed to chronologically) just set aside enough time to read chunks uninterrupted. It’s an easy read and it really got me thinking about why we’re sitting here hoping a meeting in an undisclosed location goes well.