Gary Bettman calls Air Canada’s bluff on sponsorship withdrawal threat

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If we’ve learned anything over the years with the NHL, it’s that you can never doubt the resiliency and staunch, seemingly stubborn, resolve of commissioner Gary Bettman.

With the NHL coming under fire the last two days after the Zdeno CharaMax Pacioretty incident with the added twist of having major corporate sponsor Air Canada threatening to withdraw their money from the league over the state of the game stemming from that hit, how Bettman responded to all this was going to be curious.

Today, Bettman spoke out about Air Canada’s curious public stance. Once again, Bettman pulled no punches in his thoughts on the matter.

“Air Canada is a great brand as is the National Hockey League and if they decide that they need to do other things with their sponsorship dollars, that’s their prerogative,” the commissioner said, when asked if he took the threat to pull sponsorship money seriously.

Instead, he fired off a counter-threat. “It is the prerogative of our clubs that fly on air Canada to make other arrangements if they don’t think Air Canada is giving them the appropriate level of service,” he said.

All six Canadian teams have charter arrangements with Air Canada. So do five U.S.-based teams.

Air Canada needs the NHL’s continued business badly and while their threat of pulling their money made for good instant P.R. for them, ultimately it’s an empty threat. While Air Canada is Canada’s only major airline, all NHL teams can get access to whichever carriers they need to get around North America. Air Canada comes from a point of convenience in that they’re based north of the border and fly to all the cities that have NHL teams in the country, but they’re not the only airline in the business and that’s something Bettman is more than well aware of.

It seemed like a bold move for Air Canada to take such a stand, but in all honesty it rings hollow as a honest way to try and affect change in something that’s not under their control. With the numerous millions of dollars the NHL does in business with Air Canada for, it was a major risk for them to come out so boldly and it’s one they might ultimately end up regretting. As far as capitalizing on a major incident to generate attention for your company goes, Air Canada certainly picked the right moment to try and seize the spotlight.