SI Vault
 
HOCKEY 1977-78
Jerry Kirshenbaum
October 17, 1977
For the first time in 31 years the National Hockey League opens its season with a president whose name is not Clarence Campbell. The NHL's new boss is John Augustus Ziegler Jr., 43, a Detroit lawyer who inherits from the retired Campbell a host of critical problems, including empty seats, a flood of red ink, a schedule packed with mismatches, lack of a network television package, 18 owners who usually agree only to disagree and—because the NHL spurned a merger this summer—continued warfare with the World Hockey Association. Ziegler (right) was a vice-president of the Detroit Red Wings, a team which lost more than $2 million last season while compiling the worst record in hockey. He also was the chairman of the NHL's board of governors last year, selecting Ziegler as the league's first American-born president, NHL owners kept him on as board chairman, thus giving him a broad and unprecedented mandate to put their troubled house in order. Ziegler, though, has no more clout than that routinely wielded by Attorney Robert Alan Eagleson (left), the executive director of, the NHL Players Association as well as the game's leading players' agent. The ebullient Eagleson, 44, is largely responsible for the fact that the average player salary in the NHL is $85,000 (plus $11,000 in fringes), an obvious boon to the men he represents but a drain on club coffers. A Toronto resident and onetime member of the Ontario Parliament, Eagleson is also the prime mover in Hockey Canada, the quasi-governmental body that runs that country's ventures in international hockey. For better or worse, the future of hockey depends on what kind of leadership Ziegler and Eagleson provide—and on how they get along at the bargaining table. For clues to how they might deal with the sport's problems—and each other—SPORTS ILLUSTRATED brought them together in a New York hotel suite. Ziegler and Eagleson talked hockey for more than two hours, bantering on more than a few points but also sounding several encouragingly statesmanlike themes.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 17, 1977

Hockey 1977-78

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

FAN INTEREST IN FOUR MAJOR SPORTS

BASEBALL

60%

FOOTBALL

60%

BASKETBALL

40%

HOCKEY

10%

For the first time in 31 years the National Hockey League opens its season with a president whose name is not Clarence Campbell. The NHL's new boss is John Augustus Ziegler Jr., 43, a Detroit lawyer who inherits from the retired Campbell a host of critical problems, including empty seats, a flood of red ink, a schedule packed with mismatches, lack of a network television package, 18 owners who usually agree only to disagree and—because the NHL spurned a merger this summer—continued warfare with the World Hockey Association. Ziegler (right) was a vice-president of the Detroit Red Wings, a team which lost more than $2 million last season while compiling the worst record in hockey. He also was the chairman of the NHL's board of governors last year, selecting Ziegler as the league's first American-born president, NHL owners kept him on as board chairman, thus giving him a broad and unprecedented mandate to put their troubled house in order. Ziegler, though, has no more clout than that routinely wielded by Attorney Robert Alan Eagleson (left), the executive director of, the NHL Players Association as well as the game's leading players' agent. The ebullient Eagleson, 44, is largely responsible for the fact that the average player salary in the NHL is $85,000 (plus $11,000 in fringes), an obvious boon to the men he represents but a drain on club coffers. A Toronto resident and onetime member of the Ontario Parliament, Eagleson is also the prime mover in Hockey Canada, the quasi-governmental body that runs that country's ventures in international hockey. For better or worse, the future of hockey depends on what kind of leadership Ziegler and Eagleson provide—and on how they get along at the bargaining table. For clues to how they might deal with the sport's problems—and each other—SPORTS ILLUSTRATED brought them together in a New York hotel suite. Ziegler and Eagleson talked hockey for more than two hours, bantering on more than a few points but also sounding several encouragingly statesmanlike themes.

SI: Alan, when the NHL elected John president in June, you said, "The NHL took the easy way out in not choosing a 'tough' president from outside the league." Has anything happened to change your mind?

Ziegler. I'd like to leave.

Eagleson: Because of changes that have occurred in the attitudes of the owners, I've already changed my position with respect to John Ziegler. My concern was that he was an American—as a Canadian, I naturally feel that way—and that the NHL owners had put their heads in the sand. It was almost as though they feared letting an outsider know their problems. There were too many things happening in the NHL that looked to me to be too much like WHA wheeling and dealing, where you put an arbitrary price on a franchise of five bucks and try to stiff somebody with it for seven. I thought we needed somebody to come in and say, "Gentleman, you're kidding yourselves." Then, in various meetings, our opinion of John went up because of the way he was able to keep a handle on most of his owners. Of course, as he goes along, I think he'll find some of them a little less controllable.

Ziegler. If Alan is suggesting that sometimes he's in an easier position than I am, it's because he does not necessarily find the same independence in his players that I find in my owners.

Eagleson: (Laughter)

SI: Let's talk about the operation John takes over. How much money did the NHL lose last year?

Eagleson: $18 million.

Ziegler. To be a little more accurate, there were 10 clubs out of the 18 in the league that lost a total of $18 million.

SI: The other eight made money?

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10