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NHL commissioner addresses Florida outdoor game, Bally Sports, diversity effort

Gary Bettman touches on a number of topics relevant to Lightning fans.
 
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks before Saturday's All-Star Game in Sunrise.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks before Saturday's All-Star Game in Sunrise. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Feb. 4, 2023|Updated Feb. 4, 2023

SUNRISE — At his annual All-Star Game media availability, commissioner Gary Bettman addressed several issues relevant to Lightning fans Saturday, touching on the potential of holding an outdoor game in Florida and the financial status of the Sinclair-operated Bally Sports regional sports networks.

With this year’s All-Star Game in South Florida, Bettman was asked whether the league is closer to holding an outdoor game in the state, something for which Lightning management has advocated and for which advocacy grew louder after a heavy pro-Tampa Bay contingent traveled to Nashville for the Lightning’s first outdoor game last season.

Bettman said the biggest obstacle remains Florida’s weather, specifically its unpredictability. He used Saturday’s weather as an example. Storms and 40 mph wind gusts forced the cancellation of the final day of the outdoor All-Star Beach Festival in Fort Lauderdale.

“If we had an outdoor game played (Saturday), it could be a problem,” Bettman said. “But it is something we’re exploring. And if we think we can with great likelihood accomplish it, we might try it, but we’re not there yet.”

This season the Hurricanes host the franchise’s first outdoor game, at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium adjacent to PNC Arena in Raleigh.

League monitoring Bally Sports financials

The financial struggles of the Bally Sports regional sports networks, and recent reports of their pending bankruptcy, have concerned Lightning fans. They worry the team’s revenue stream could be impacted or there’s a danger the games broadcast on Bally Sports Sun, the local rights holder for Lightning and Rays games, could be interrupted.

Bettman said he has been in contact with Diamond Sports Group, the company that operates the 19 Bally Sports regional networks.

“They are suggesting that there isn’t an imminent financial crisis, that they’re trying to reorganize their business and move forward effectively, and so that the clubs will continue to get paid and the games will continue to be distributed,” Bettman said. “But we are obviously monitoring it very closely, and exploring, at least theoretically, what the options may be in the event the worst were to happen.”

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the situation “may not necessarily result in bankruptcy.”

The Lightning declined to comment last week when asked about the impact the networks’ struggles could have on the team, but it’s believed the Lightning wouldn’t be affected this season. The team’s current regional sports TV contract expires this season.

Diversity effort attempts have ‘parameters’

The league’s diversity and inclusion efforts, centering around the “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative, have been under scrutiny since the Flyers’ Ivan Provorov boycotted his team’s pregame Pride Night celebration last month, citing his Russian Orthodox religious beliefs.

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Also, the league reworked last week’s “Pathway to Hockey Summit” job fair that originally was aimed at attracting a more diverse workforce after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called it discriminatory. And the Rangers last month decided against wearing pride jerseys during warmups on their Pride Night as was originally promoted.

Bettman defended the league.

“We’re trying to be open, welcoming and inclusive and within parameters,” he said. “Being welcoming and diverse and inclusive requires a two-way line, which gets drawn in each case, that you’re tolerant to a point of various views.”

When asked if the league’s actions promote bigotry, Bettman said, “I think you’re taking the bridge too far.”

“I’m sure you don’t endorse every single charity that solicits you and you don’t participate in every social cause,” he said. “You pick and choose the ones that are important to you. The ones you don’t choose to do don’t necessarily make you bigoted or misogynistic or homophobic or racist.”

The Lightning’s Pride Night is March 7 when they host the Flyers.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.

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