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Saturday, November 24, 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.


I feel the crucial backdrop to the owners and players not being able to agree on a new CBA is the media attention and fan base in the U.S. Yes, Bettman has lost more games than any other commissioner. Yet, there is also almmost no coverage of the NHL labor dispute on the major sports media outlets such as ESPN as there was for the NBA and NFL disputes. I feel that because of the spotlight that was constantly on the NBA and NFL, it drastically helped the agreement between the two sides. The NHL just lacks the publicity and power to put the pressure on the two sides more than it already is to come to an agreement. That partially is Bettman's fault in promoting the league, but it also just the way American society and media is today, unfortunately.
- Jordan K

Anonymous Anonymous -- 11/27/2012 11:06 PM  

David Stern has been a good commissioner as evidenced by these stats. However, his recent stance on Greg Poppovich sitting star players Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker is untenable. Athletes need rest too.

I think it's ridiculous for Stern to punish the Spurs, Poppovich, or the players. The Spurs are one of the best-run sports organizations in America. I think Pop was trying to send Stern a message that was not well-received. He won't make his players play at the expense of their health.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 11/30/2012 5:37 PM  

It's actually "better" than your numbers state. You forgot to count 2010-11 and are missing 1230 games. It's ~22,781 scheduled games during Bettman's era, not 21,551.

So, it was ~7.5% games lost (not 7.9%) going into the lockout. It's ~9.3% games lost (not 10.1%) to 12/10/12. It'd be ~12.2% games lost (not 12.9%) if the season is canceled.

Nonetheless, it's truly sad that so many games haven't been played during the Bettman era.

Blogger Pat -- 12/10/2012 5:32 PM  

Hi Pat, good catch, thanks - I've fixed the numbers. Appreciate you checking it and letting me know.

Blogger Michael McCann -- 12/10/2012 11:35 PM  

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