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Gary Bettman Pre Game Press Conference

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was in Winnipeg to celebrate the first regular season game versus the Montreal Canadiens. He spoke to the media before the game about a number of topics, read the transcript below.

“Good afternoon everyone, welcome, I thought I was in the neighborhood and I’d stop by. It’s pretty exciting to be in Winnipeg today. On behalf of the National Hockey League, we’re thrilled to be here. This is obviously a terrific day for the City of Winnipeg, the Province of Manitoba, the entire Country of Canada and the National Hockey League. And it’s a testament to Mark Chipman and David Thomson, their persistence and the way they’ve conducted themselves. True North has been an absolute delight to deal with; they’ve had a lot to accomplish in a short period of time and they’ve done it extremely well. The reception by the fans and the overall community has been nothing short of sensational, we couldn’t be more pleased. It’s an exciting day, it’s exciting to be here. For all of our Canadian friends, Happy Thanksgiving a day early.”

On the fan enthusiasm outside the MTS Centre

“It’s terrific, it’s exciting, it shows you the passion that fans have for our sport, it shows you what Winnipeg as a community is like when there’s a common cause to celebrate and support. It’s very gratifying and it wasn’t unexpected.”

On people outside of Winnipeg taking note

“I think everyone’s taken note at the enthusiasm, at the passion that people have for our game and I think it demonstrates in many ways the importance of hockey as a sport. Both at the grassroots level, and at the professional level.”

On his confidence in the Winnipeg market

“Completely confident, we have no reason to believe anything other than this team will be a huge success for the long term, for the foreseeable future. However you want to characterize it, but I’m not sure why anyone would focus on how long. The team is here, it’s being well supported, it’s being well run by a terrific organization, it’s owned by people who are committed and have the resources to back it up. This is all good.”

On the possibility of coming to Winnipeg sooner

“The fact is, we didn’t have the opportunity to. I know there’s been a lot of speculation and commentary about it, the fact of the matter is, when the team left, we’ve been over this many times, nobody wanted to own a team here anymore. There are a lot of reasons for that, not the least of which is the arena situation. That’s all changed, that’s all good, but what we don’t do is look at two cities and say we’d rather be in one that the other so let’s leave, because everyone who was here fifteen years ago knows how painful it is when a team leaves a city. It was only after it was clear that Atlanta was moving that we were in a position to look at coming back here. To suggest that we wish we could have done it earlier or not, that’s not really fair, because that’s not realistic. One of the things we tried to be very careful about was not raising expectations. I didn’t want people to start getting their hopes up until we knew we were going to have the possibility of a franchise to deliver. It’s a very good question, but unfortunately characterizes the process in a way than the way it ultimately had to play out.”

On other Canadian cities who want an NHL team

“We know there is no shortage of interest in having a franchise in lots of cities. Some Canadian, and some in the U.S. but as I just said, we don’t have any franchises to move.”

On previously (unfairly) being the face of losing the franchise in Winnipeg, to now being on the other end

“It’s a fair question, I don’t personalize these things, for people who understood what happened fifteen years ago, it may have been my face that was put on it, people know, I was not the least bit happy, in fact we did everything possible not to move the club. In fact, if you go back and check the old commentary and reporting of what happen, even the province said, it was time to go. It wasn’t personal then and frankly, while I’m happy to have been a part of the equation that restored the team. The credit goes to the people here in Winnipeg, without whom, this wouldn’t be happening. People think we decide we’re going to do this; we’re going to do that, and we just make it happen. Obviously, we had to be involved at the league level in making this a reality. But none of this happens without Mark Chipman and David Thomson. And that probably may be the biggest difference from where we are coupled with the building we are sitting in now. And the fact is, the province and particularly this city is a lot stronger than it was fifteen years ago, when you put the factors all together. Throughout the fifteen years, one, we never doubted that there are great fans here. Two, we never were pleased with the fact that we were left with no choice at the time the club moved.”

On the expected fan response

“I don’t really know, I was just up in the concourse before they opened the doors to do a radio show. It was very warm and enthusiastic. As long as it’s not quiet, I’m used to a lot of noise when I’m in crowds around a hockey game. As long as they are not ignoring me, one way or another we’ll take the passion.”

On the chants of “Gary, Gary” in the concourse

“The other radio guy, his name was Gary too, I thought they were cheering for him.”

On which factor was more important to the return of the NHL, the dollar or the arena

“The high Canadian dollar, I know a lot is written about that but our system compensates for that. The HRR (Hockey Related Revenue) fluctuates with the rise and fall with the rise and fall of the Canadian dollar, there’s revenue sharing. Mark Chipman will tell you if he hasn’t already that if it weren’t for the new collective bargaining agreement he wouldn’t bother having any conversations with me. The arena, was essential. You know what’s interesting about the arena here, it got built at the time when there was no expectation that there would necessarily be a hockey team. But this community determined that it was important to have an arena; concerts, family shows, ice shows and the like. Over lunch I heard a statistic from the former Premier and the current Ambassador to the United States about how on a per capita basis for concerts, this is the number one arena in North America. Having an arena is important beyond just having a hockey team, but without the arena, we wouldn’t be having this dialogue today.”

On the fan response

“Sport particularly hockey, is about passion, and hockey fans tend to be the most avid fans in all of sports. If you miss something terribly, which was clear from the reaction we have been getting over the years from the fans here; when you get it back, its cause for celebration. Today is a celebration; we started to kick that off on Thursday night with Face Off at The Forks. We’re thrilled to be back, and we never doubted…there was so much commentary about the need to prove the passion of the fans and the support. We never doubted it, the reason this club moved in the first place were factors beyond the passion and support of the fans.”

On the situation in Phoenix

“I’ll give you a short answer on that, because today is about Winnipeg and the Jets. It remains a work in progress, and there are actually a couple of active potential owners who are going through the process of seeing if they can make it work.”

On the process of selecting officials for the first game

“Terry Gregson (Director of Officiating) is in charge of doing it. While this is a great celebration and a moment in history, the fact is it is one 1230 regular season games, and the points matter. This is a real live game, under real live game circumstances, you know based on how competitive our playoff races have been, the points available tonight can be the difference in the team making the playoffs, once the puck drops, it’s business as usual.”

On the officials being from Winnipeg

“Probably not (a coincidence), it’s obviously a good feeling and our officials like to be a part of big events, and this is a big event. On one hand its one of 1230 regular season games, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that we know that today is a big deal.”

On the plans of a new arena in Quebec City

“This arena was built without the expectation of a team. No promises have been made for Quebec City because we don’t have a franchise to promise. We’ve told everybody if you are going to build the arena that’s great, but we can’t promise you a team while you’re building it. That’s another place where I wouldn’t want to raise expectations.”

On realignment

“Alignment tends to be one of those complicated and emotional issues because everybody’s got a particular interest that typically transcends in that unique case, the greater good of the league. We’ll get something done, I just can’t predict what it is yet. Just so it’s clear, I don’t get to unilaterally make that decision, I don’t get to tell teams where they go. By a two thirds vote, twenty clubs have to agree, it’s done by the board of governors.”

On playing Montreal

“We have control of the schedule, that wasn’t a coincidence, we thought it would be a terrific matchup.”

On having league events in Winnipeg (NHL Draft, All Star Game)

“I don’t remember if we’ve had a specific discussion because Marks been a little busy for the past couple of months. The Winnipeg Jets are now a full fledged first class member of the NHL, to the extent that there is an interest in any league event. That is interest that we’re going to take very seriously. There could be more league events, be it a Draft or an All-Star Game in the future. We demonstrated that out of the box by doing Face Off here on Thursday night. We’re here.”

On the effect of the struggling U.S. economy on sports and the NHL

“The US economy has been soft, for lack of a better word. We’ve had tremendous growth; we seem to be bucking the trend in that regard, we’re optimistic that even after six years of record revenue growth, we’re going to have a seventh this year, so we’re doing ok.”