Gary Bettman

In the Crease with the NHL Commissioner

NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, has championed the sport of hockey since his tenure began in 1993. When he assumed office, Gary went to work increasing the league’s footprint in the U.S. At the time, there were NHL clubs in 24 U.S. markets. The league now consists of 32 teams, 25 in the United States and 7 in Canada, and is considered the premier professional ice hockey league in the world. Gary was named Sports Executive of the Year by The Sports Business Journal in 2014 and he was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2016. He is also an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builder Category. He is currently the longest-serving active commissioner in professional sports.

We had the opportunity to sit down with the Saddle River resident and get his unique perspective on the great sport of hockey.

How long have you and your family lived in northern New Jersey?

I grew up in Queens and later moved to Huntington, Long Island. Before moving to Saddle River in 1995, we were in Rockland County, New York. My wife, Shelli, and I have three grown children who live locally: Lauren, Jordan, and Brittany, and I have six grandchildren.

Fun fact:

A recent highlight of Gary’s “grandfatherhood” was the opportunity to watch his grandson, Matthew, in the NJSIAA Public B boys ice hockey state championship on March 7 at Prudential Center. Matthew was part of the Northern Highlands high school team that brought home the title!

Have you always been a sports fan?

Growing up, I was always a fan of all the different sports. I would use my G.O. card to watch Ranger games at Madison Square Garden. Back in the ‘60s, you could get a student “general organization” membership card to attend games very inexpensively. I’d pack my lunch and go whenever I could!

Can you skate?

When I was in college, my girlfriend (now wife, Shelli) taught me so that I could play intramural hockey.

How did you get involved with the NHL?

I’m a lawyer by training. When I was 32, I got a job as general counsel for the NBA. I was there for 12 years before moving over to the NHL as its commissioner.

What’s a typical day for Gary Bettman?

Running a sports league is equivalent to running a major entertainment company. We manage the game schedule, media, officials, licensing, sponsors, advertisers, and business partners. My responsibility is to make sure everything works together. For example, in the tech space, we have relationships with Apple, Amazon, SAP, and Verizon. We need to constantly develop ways to create valuable relationship opportunities for our business sponsors.

My days consist of lots of meetings and phone calls. I deal with day-to-day issues like working on collective bargaining agreements, negotiating new media contracts, and promoting new initiatives. We’re busy operating 32 franchises playing in 1312 different season games throughout the U.S. and Canada. I try to attend a game in each arena annually; however, the past two years have been challenging due to COVID.

Speaking of COVID, how is the NHL bouncing back?

After the isolation of playing in empty arenas, we are now back to our regular, full schedule. The Canadian games have been an exceptional challenge because they didn’t permit spectators for a long time. Now, we’re coming back strong!

The game of hockey strikes me as a platform for integrity, inclusion, and positive values. Can you share a bit about that?

Hockey enjoys the most incredible connection to fans of any sport out there. Our league takes great pride in the values of the game and strives to use our platform to stand for the “right thing,” teaching young people the lessons of team play, education, and hard work. We are happy to be back post-pandemic, delivering the excitement of the game to our fans.

In 2017, the NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) unveiled hockey’s Declaration of Principles, developed by stakeholders to advance policies and programs while inspiring fans, players, and communities to create the best hockey experience possible.

How does the NHL give back to fans and the community?

The NHL management and players are involved in providing a safe, positive, and inclusive environment for everyone. 

Our league is involved in a wide array of diversity programs, environmental sustainability efforts, and food recovery programs. We also partner with the You Can Play Project, which works to ensure the safety and inclusion of all people who participate in sports. Our players are very giving of themselves, and many have their own foundations as well. There are so many initiatives going on. All of the latest news can be found on

We take great pride in the way clubs connect with the community, give back, and make a difference in people’s lives. It’s as important as anything else we do.

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