He lectured the businessmen about the huge tax breaks and subsidized arenas U.S. municipalities often afford hockey franchises, while adding that Canada's governments do no such tiling. The Senators, he pointed out, pay $3 million annually in municipal taxes—more than the 20 U.S. teams combined.
That appeal for government help was presumptuous and disturbing for Canadians because Bettman, a U.S. citizen, is essentially telling their country how to run its affairs. Canada taxes all residents at a much higher rate than America does and needs the revenue for such national hallmarks as socialized medicine and its well-supported public-education system. "The U.S. shouldn't be subsidizing those puck-flipping jocks," says University of Toronto professor emeritus John Crispo, an expert on political economy. "Thank god our municipalities aren't doing that to the same extent."
The fate of the three teams is important to the NHL because Canadian markets are the only ones where hockey is the top game in town and because Canada still produces 61% of the NHL's players. In the wake of the Nordiques' move from Quebec to Colorado in 1995 and the Jets' defection from Winnipeg to Phoenix in '96, the league adopted an assistance plan to aid struggling Canadian franchises. While the Flames, Oilers and Senators each received $2.5 million from that pool this season, that's a small sum for franchises that could lose double that amount or more in each of the next several seasons.
The best solution would be for the NHL to institute some form of revenue sharing among its teams, but the players' union, headed by Detroit-born Bob Goodenow, has expressed no interest in making sacrifices to aid Canada's teams. Bettman either has to take on Goodenow or divert more of the NHL's wealth to its neediest cases.