Bettman Hears It From Boomer, Says NHL Has ‘Fences To Mend’ With Fans
NEW YORK (WFAN) – Sure, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason is a football guy.
But he’s also a die-hard hockey fan. Rangers, to be exact.
So when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman joined the “Boomer & Carton” show on Monday morning, Esiason couldn’t hold back: “I’m very mad at you, Gary. … You guys really screwed this thing up. You really did.”
Bettman, fresh off his third lockout as commissioner of the league, said it was “unfortunate” and “terrible” that labor peace took so long, the impasse claiming much of the season and the ultra-popular Winter Classic.
“How do you think we feel?” Bettman responded to Esiason’s displeasure. “It’s to say the least disappointing, frustrating. But you have to be in a position to know that moving forward, the game can be healthy and that you have a fair agreement. And in the final analysis, to make the wrong deal and try and live with that is a terrible distraction as well.”
The puck will drop Saturday on a shortened 48-game schedule after a new 10-year deal was ratified by the owners and players.
“You know, anybody in my position sometimes has to make very difficult decisions while looking at the big picture,” said Bettman. “And again, I’m not trying to justify it, I’m not trying to explain it away. You know, I’m sorry that we went through this. … All we can do is take some solace in the fact that we have long-term labor peace, and that our fans can reconnect with what I think are the best athletes in all of sports.”
Bettman knows it’ll take some work to get not only the tried-and-true fans reinvested, but the fringe ones too.
“We have a lot of reconnecting to do,” he said. “We have some fences to mend and bridges to mend, and we’re going to work very hard to re-earn the trust of our fans — even the more casual, newer fans. And we’re going to work very hard to do that. One of the reasons Boomer’s so mad at me is he represents the great passion that hockey fans have, and we all missed our game terribly. Listen, we’re about to have an amazing shortened season.”
Bettman said there’s a “variety of things” in the works to welcome back the hockey faithful, “most of which are on a club-by-club basis.”
The league is also “in the process” of working out a discount for NHL Center Ice, the cable-satellite subscription package which broadcasts all games, and streaming service NHL GameCenter LIVE.
Esiason wanted to see those offered for free. Bettman called it “a good thought.”
“We have partners in that business, so we don’t have the luxury of just giving it away,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is get it to a place where we think it’s certainly a very good offer, but it’s something that the business partners … can live with.”
The interview ended on a lighter note — sort of.
“I look forward to seeing you at the Garden,” Bettman told Esiason.
Boomer replied: “Oh no, no, no, no. Do not stand next to me at the Garden. No way. Not until next year.”
What does the NHL need to do to smooth things over? Sound off in the comments!