The Stanley Cup Finals begin tonight, with my favorite team (no, not the Canucks) facing off, trying to win the Cup for the first time in a long time.
Looking at the growth of the NHL the past twenty years, I cannot help but remember a time, back around 1994 when I was a wee Canadian lad, playing NHL '93 on Sega Genesis, drinking beer with my University peeps. Gary Bettman had just been hired by the NHL to be commissioner. This "outsider" was (and this is not too strong a word) hated by a lot of the old time Canadian hockey fans, including my NHL '93 playing partners. He wanted to modernize the game, he wanted to sign a US deal, he wanted to put teams in sunshine states. He did not even mind the Fox Sports glow puck. He wanted to expand the sport the best way he knew how. For the most part, if we looked at things from the outside, or dispassionately, Bettman was right, and we old time fans were wrong.
Bettman has held the job for a very long time, and things are moving (and have been) in the right direction. Revenues have increased by over 500% since he took over the reins.
Racing has been pretty much been the polar opposite of this in terms of growth, and since we can't blame a horse (they're cute and don't make policy), a singular track head (there are 100+ of them), or even Frank Stronach (though we try); who's left to blame? Namely, Alex Waldrop, head of the NTRA.
I have read the blogs, the stories, the comments on those stories and heard the back room whispers, like many of you have. I find, with Waldrop, they are not unlike the Bettman gripes. He has made bad policy, he makes too much money, and on and on. I think it's for the most part undeserving. Alex Waldrop, in my opinion, has the toughest job in our sport and he in no way has done a bad a job as people like to make out.
His job posting reads: "Legal and Sports Marketing Background- Previous experience in cat herding an asset."
Some of the things Waldrop has pushed, like the NTRA safety alliance, should be commended. He, in 2007 and 2008, hired some digital marketing consultants before digital marketing was ever even spoke about in our sport and pushed that concept. He has realized high takeouts kill our customer base and has spoken out about it to anyone who would listen (but he controls this in no way at all). He has constantly promoted the big events, and these big events have grown, despite handle losses overall. He has tried to get done many things without the ability to be a Gary Bettman - yield a big stick.
How does one make policy without power?
I have rarely criticized people like Alex here on my blog, because I realize how hard their job is. In racing, unlike any other sport, the job is especially hard when you are given no power at all. If Alex Waldrop did not hold this position, the criticisms would be the same; they would just be leveled at person with a different first and last name. The person is not the problem, the structure of racing is.