Saturday, 24 November 2012

Loss of NHL games with Gary Bettman as Commissioner

Updated for NHL's additional cancellation of games on Dec. 10, 2012: As of December 10, the NHL has cancelled 526 of the 1230 regular season games scheduled for the 2012-13 NHL season.  10.1% 9.5% of regular season games under Gary Bettman have been cancelled.  No other commissioner is close and even when they are combined, they aren't close.

Back in October, I tweeted about loss of regular season games by commissioner by percent and in the aggregate.  With the 2012-13 NHL season on the brink (as Nathaniel Grow explained), I figured it might be helpful to see some updated math.

Here are my calculations for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman:

NHL Season    Regular S Games    Games Lost

1992-93             384*                         0
1994-93           1092                          0
1994-95           1092                      468               
1995-96           1066                          0               
1996-97           1066                          0               
1997-98           1066                          0               
1998-99           1107                          0               
1999-00           1148                          0               
2000-01           1230                          0               
2001-02           1230                          0               
2002-03           1230                          0               
2003-04           1230                          0               
2004-05           1230                    1230                   
2005-06           1230                         0               
2006-07           1230                         0               
2007-08           1230                         0               
2008-09           1230                         0               
2009-10           1230                         0               
2010-11           1230                         0               
2011-12           1230                         0               

            Total:               22,781                1698 = 7.4% of games cancelled through 2011-12 season.

2012-13           1230             To 12/10/2012: 526 games cancelled = 9.5% 
                                             If 12-13 season lost: 12.2%

To date, 9.5% of games under Bettman's nearly 20 years as commissioner have been cancelled.  But if this season is cancelled, the number jumps to 12.2% of games.  That's a lot of games lost -- for owners, players and the numerous businesses (souvenir stores, restaurants/bar) dependent on NHL games being played.

Explanatory Notes and Assumptions

  • NHL used 84-game regular season in 92-93, 93-94, and 94-95 seasons; in other seasons, 82-game regular season used. 
  • NHL had 24 franchises in 92-93, 26 franchises from 93-94 to 97-98; 27 franchises in 98-99; 28 franchises in 99-00; and 30 franchises from 00-01 to present.
  • Bettman became commissioner on Feb. 1, 1993.  By that date most of the 92-93 season had been played.  The Boston Bruins, for instance, had played 52 of their 84 regular season games.  Other teams had played about the same, give or take a game.  Assuming the 24 franchises had 32 games left, then Bettman was commissioner for 384 games in the 92-93 season (768 remaining games to be played by teams, divided by two since each game has two teams).
Context and Caveats

  • It's important to stress that loss of games has many explanations, and not just who is the person occupying the commissioner’s job.  Clearly, the wishes of individual franchise owners and their level of unity in bargaining matter.  The willingness and ability of players’ associations to organize players and reasonably compromise with the league also matter.
  • Evaluating a commissioner invites numerous metrics, including growth of revenue and popularity of sport.  Most would say Bettman has done well on those and other fronts, though expansion into southern U.S. states remains a questionable business strategy.

Key Take Away:

While context matters and while blame should be shared with owners and players, it's hard to escape these numbers when compared to other leagues' commissioners: Far more games have been lost under Bettman's watch than have been lost under commissioners of the NFL, NBA and MLB. 

In fact, no games have been lost under Roger Goodell’s leadership (6 years on the job), and just 2% of games have been lost under the leadership of David Stern (28 years on the job) and Bud Selig (20 years on the job). Those commissioners can certainly be criticized for many things, but they have succeeded in ensuring that scheduled games are played.  Games being played is obviously not only a concern for owners and players - the two groups who have the authority to resolve a labor dispute.  It's also one for those who have no formal say at the bargaining table: fans who buy tickets, networks that enter into broadcasting contracts to televise games, and apparel stores and restaurants that enter into business contracts assuming they will generate business from games being played.

If Bettman's games lost percent rises to 12%, it will be a percent of games much higher than all of the other commissioners combined -- and it's already higher as it is.

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