gary bettman nhl appetite expand playoffs

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Bettman was honored for hitting the 30-year anniversary of his tenure as commissioner on Sunday, when the NHL had 16 teams qualify for the postseason in a 24-team league. That number has remained the same even as the league has now expanded to 32 franchises.

“Frankly, there’s nothing better in sports playoffs than our first round, and so I’m not sensing much of an appetite for change,” Bettman said. “People think the system we have in place right now is working extraordinarily well.

“I think what we have now works. I think you’re looking to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”

In 2022, MLB (30 teams) expanded from eight playoff entrants to 12. The 32-team NFL moved from 12 to 14 playoff teams. And the NBA, which is most closely aligned to the NHL in playoff style, added a popular play-in tournament where the seventh and eighth place teams in each conference at the end of the regular season must earn their way into the postseason by beating the ninth and 10th place teams.

More does not always equal better. But the increases have presumably led to increases in revenue for all three leagues, in the case of the NBA at the very least with the increased gate from as many as six additional playoff games. More to the point, it has also clearly had an impact in made-for-television drama that surely makes the leagues’ lucrative media partners happy.

Bettman is not buying the increased revenue argument as a reason for expanding the field.

“I’m not sure it enhances revenues, by diluting the regular season and diluting the playoffs,” Bettman said. “It doesn’t make much sense to me. I think we have a system where half the teams make the playoffs and half don’t, I think that’s perfect.”

Then again, the NHL has previously resisted change that was clearly good for business.

Remember when Bettman said in 2015 that you’d have “drag” him “kicking and screaming” and it would take “a lot, a lot, a lot of money” to put sponsor ads on jerseys because it would desecrate the “history, tradition and respect that goes with NHL sweaters” ?

Ah, yes. Money talks. Now, after projecting that jersey sponsor ad sales will ultimately be worth “hundreds” of millions of dollars in league revenue, the league is on-board.

And guess what?

“It’s been a very robust marketplace,” Bettman said Tuesday with regards to jersey ad sales. “And fans in that regard, based on the polling, have shown no pushback at all. They get it.”

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