Puck Daddy - NHL

As Wayne Gretzky desperately tries to keep his finances from the prying eyes of bankruptcy court, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's salary is a matter of public record: $7.1 million in salary and benefits for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008, according to Sports Business Journal.

From Tripp Mickle of SBJ:

The salary is the highest Bettman has earned in his 16 years as commissioner and a major increase from his pre-lockout salary of $3.77 million. League tax filings, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008, show Bettman received $4,197,694 in compensation from the NHL and an additional $2,911,550 in compensation and benefits from the NHL's business arm, NHL Enterprises.

[...]

The NHL declined to explain Bettman's salary increase, but the increase came following a 2006-07 season that saw league revenue top $2.2 billion as the NHL set an attendance record and increased NHL Enterprises and broadcasting revenue by double-digit percentages.

Look, Bettman has a tough gig. He's spent the last 16 years doing the sports marketing equivalent of selling bottled water to a fish in trying to sell hockey to mainstream sponsors and casual sports fans. He's attempted to grow the product through non-traditional means, and has taken more unpopular stands than Ann Coulter at an Alec Baldwin fan convention. Plus, unlike other sports commissioners, he also has to deal with Photoshop contests that place him in a pretty dress.

History will judge his successes and failures; but there's no disputing that he earns his keep.

It's just that his keep, while comparably minuscule to other sports, is completely contradictory to both the reality of our financial surroundings and the sacrifices his employees have had to make in the last five years for the sport they love.

First off, how does Bettman's reported $7.1 million salary rate in comparison with other sports commissioners? Glad you asked, as Sports Business Journal as the breakdown:

Commissioner

League

Compensation

Bud Selig

MLB

$18.35 million

Roger Goodell

NFL

$10.90 million

David Stern

NBA

$10 million *

Tim Finchem

PGA

$4.8 million

Carolyn Bivens

LPGA

$500,000 **

* SBJ reports that Stern makes around $10 million, but that "his salary is not reported publicly because the league doesn't claim tax-exempt status."

** Soon to be former LPGA commissioner.

Taken as a percentage of league revenue, Bettman's salary is elephantine. Consider that the NFL made a reported $6.5 billion in 2008, and even that triggered job cuts; the whole enchilada for the NHL for 2007-08 was $2.5 billion, according to SBJ. (Goodell's numbers were from the most recent fiscal year available.)

Now, how does Gary Bettman's compensation rate with some of the top NHL player salaries from the 2007-08 season? Again, glad you asked (salary figures via NHL Numbers):

Daniel Briere, Philadelphia Flyers: $10 million
Scott Gomez(notes), New York Rangers: $10 million
Thomas Vanek(notes), Buffalo Sabres: $10 million
Brad Richards(notes), Tampa Bay Lightning/Dallas Stars: $7.8 million
Nicklas Lidstrom(notes), Detroit Red Wings: $7.6 million
Patrik Elias(notes), New Jersey Devils: $7.5 million
Zdeno Chara(notes), Boston Bruins: $7.5 million
Ryan Smyth(notes), Colorado Avalanche: $7.5 million
Vincent Lecavalier(notes), Tampa Bay Lightning: $7.167 million
Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner: $7.1 million
Chris Drury(notes), New York Rangers: $7.1 million
Marian Hossa(notes), Atlanta Thrashers/Pittsburgh Penguins: $7 million
Jarome Iginla(notes), Calgary Flames: $7 million
Nikolai Khabibulin(notes), Chicago Blackhawks: $6.75 million
Scott Niedermayer(notes), Anaheim Ducks: $6.75 million
Joe Sakic(notes), Colorado Avalanche: $6.75 million
Pavel Datsyuk(notes), Detroit Red Wings: $6.7 million
Joe Thornton(notes), San Jose Sharks: $6.67 million

Next time someone tells you Chris Drury is overpaid, let'em know he's just pulling down Bettman Money.

One can't help but think of the players when one hears that the commissioner of the NHL is earning $7.1 million annually, up from $3.77 million before the lockout. You remember the lockout, right? The one that capped team salaries, rolled back the value of existing contracts and generally sought to control spending (as much as it can be controlled with owners breaking piggy banks annually for talent)?

On the one hand, it's hard to stomach a commissioner nearly doubling his salary from the league's owners by keeping money away from their employees; it's got the stench of a CEO earning a fat bonus for pink-slipping thousands of factory workers in the name of "cost certainty."

Additionally, Bettman made $2.9 million from the League's marketing arm; which, of course, markets what the players wear on their arms, chests and heads. Yet the percentage of revenue for those players for the gear they pimp is ... well, probably a little less than $2.9 million.

Yet on the other hand, Bettman is being compensated for helping to move hockey into greater popularity and fresher revenue streams. If successful, the players benefit from team revenue sharing and a higher salary floor and ceiling under the cap. He does better, they all do better. Clearly, the owners think he's dandy to that end.

This isn't a justification for Gary Bettman making more money than Jarome Iginla, of course. It should be written into the CBA that no NHL suit can make more than Iggy.

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