While fans wait patiently to see who will participate in the 2012 Winter Classic, it turns out today that there’s a new wrinkle thrown into the mix for teams hopeful of landing a spot in the annual New Year’s Day spectacle.
The Sports Business Journal reports that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sat down with YES Network’s Michael Kay for an episode of “CenterStage” and when answering questions about the Winter Classic, Bettman said that teams hopeful of participating in the game must allow their locker rooms and players to be open (subscription required) to be a part of HBO’s 24/7.
“HBO Sports has told us they would like to do (‘24/7’) again and again and again.” Kay asked Bettman how he would handle a Winter Classic team that refused to allow film crews into the locker room. “If you’re not going to allow (‘24/7’), then you’re not going to be in the Winter Classic,” Bettman said.
It’s a bold step for Bettman to lay this stipulation down on teams as there are a few potential teams that have been less-than helpful in opening themselves up to the media in the past. For some teams, controlling the message that comes out is more important than openness and transparency with what goes on in daily operations.
Forcing those teams that might be on the fence about leaving themselves open to public interpretation of how things go on a day-to-day basis to make a choice of whether or not they want in on the annual event is a real “put up or shut up” move by the league, and it’s a smart one.
After all, if a team’s motivation for being in the Winter Classic is to just get a piece of the financial pie that results from the game, the least they can do is take part in a cable series that’s helped generate tremendous attention for the NHL and the Winter Classic itself. If a team is unwilling to shoulder the load of doing their part to generate publicity for the league then they serve no purpose in taking part in the game that’s become the beacon of attention for the NHL.
Many have been critical of Gary Bettman’s tactics in the past (yours truly especially) but when it’s come to the Winter Classic and now with HBO’s 24/7, they’ve got a really good thing going. Considering the heaping amount of positive feedback (and ratings) for the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh, it just makes good business sense to lay things out like this and scare off anyone that might even be a bit apprehensive. Bettman has made it clear that many teams are clamoring to host or be involved in future Winter Classics and with HBO’s help, he’s got leverage to start figuring out which teams are willing to go all the way or not.