Stay Sober Around Gary BettmanS

We missed this when it ran Tuesday, but we'd like to bring to your attention the memoirs of Richard Stursberg, former head of CBC. The excerpt that ran in Maclean's concerns his 2006 negotiations with Gary Bettman over the league's television contract. We pick things up at a chi-chi Italian restaurant, where Bettman is attempting to wring concessions by dangling the threat of other networks' competing bids.

I went to meet Bettman and Daly at Rao's, a restaurant in East Harlem. Bettman told us in advance that Rao's had a reputation as a favourite restaurant of some mobsters. He noted with what seemed a strangely misplaced enthusiasm that someone had been killed there three years ago. Even so, the conversation began auspiciously enough, with Bettman saying the league was fine with the financial terms. But-there was always a "but" with Bettman-they needed more concessions, giving TSN more playoff games and two more Leafs games. It was like an endless trip to the dentist.

It seemed clear that if the league was prepared to close with TSN, then the threat of CTV bidding must not be there. "I guess that CTV's not in the picture," I mused.

Bettman smiled inscrutably. "Well, you never know," he said, apparently implying that Ivan Fecan was somewhere in his back pocket and could be produced if necessary, like a bad rabbit from a malevolent hat.

"I never imagined they would consider it," I went on, ignoring him. "They could never fit Hockey Night in Canada into their schedule."

"As I say," he continued, "you never know. But the best course is, of course, just to conclude."

There it was. We should cough up the playoff concessions and two Leafs games, let him close with TSN and be happy. With Bettman one is afraid to have a drink. It's wiser to stick to water. He is always negotiating. Often when he is just speculating or gossiping or asking after the weather report, he is really negotiating. It never stops.

After dinner we walked into the cold Harlem night. There were no taxis anywhere. Bettman noticed us looking around.

"No car?" he asked.

"No. How do we get a cab?"

"Oh, cabs never come up here. They're afraid," he replied.

"Can you give us a lift?"

"Sure. How about we make it three extra Maple Leaf games?"

The negotiations lasted months, and ended with the CBC paying more money but hanging on to Toronto games. The contract is profitable but risky, Stursberg concludes, and depends on a few factors out of the CBC's control, like the success of the Leafs.

If the economy collapsed, or the advertising markets went south, or the Leafs never made the playoffs, or the digital rights had no value, then we would face a loss. But the risks seemed remote-the economy was in the midst of a great boom, the Leafs could not lose forever, and the digital markets were growing faster than the economy as a whole. It seemed safe.

CBC vs. NHL goes into overtime [Maclean's]