*This story was updated 3/10/11*
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has responded to Air Canada's threat that they would pull sponsorship if Boston Bruins' defenseman Zdeno Chara was not punished for a hit which took place Tuesday against Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty. The Globe and Mail reports Bettman said: “Air Canada is a great brand as is the National Hockey League and if they decide that they need to do other things with their sponsorship dollars, that’s their prerogative,” when asked if he took the threat seriously.
Bettman said people around the NHL have commended the league for the way they handled the Chara hit.
Slam Sports enitially reported that one of the NHL's largest financial corporate backers sent a letter to the NHL demanding “immediate” and “serious” action against Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara for his hit on Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty. Air Canada, who owns naming rights to Toronto's Air Canada Centre and sponsors other Canadian teams, wrote the commissioner's office after the NHL elected not to punish Chara.
"We are contacting you (Wednesday) to voice our concern over (Tuesday night's) incident involving Max Pacioretty and Zdeno Chara at the Bell Centre in Montreal," wrote Air Canada's director of communications Denis Vandal. "This is following several other incidents involving career-threatening and life-threatening headshots in the NHL recently."
"From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, it is becoming increasingly difficult to associate our brand with sports events which could lead to serious and irresponsible accidents; action must be taken by the NHL before we are encountered with a fatality.
"Unless the NHL takes immediate action with serious suspension to the players in question to curtail these life-threatening injuries, Air Canada will withdraw its sponsorship of hockey."
Air Canada reportedly sent his letter to all six Canadian NHL governors. Vandal continued: "While we support countless sports, arts and community events, we are having difficulty rationalizing our sponsorship of hockey unless the NHL takes responsibily to protect both the players and the integrity of the game."
NHL VP Mike Murphy ruled that Chara's hit had “no basis to impose supplemental discipline.”
While some have suggested Air Canada is simply looking for good publicity, the NHL still has a problem on their hands. The head office has faced criticism for the arbitrary nature of nearly every suspension or fine this season. Many players and personnel have expressed confusion about what hits warrant suspension or fine.
It is extremely unlikely Air Canada would pull sponsorship due to one ruling, but the message should be enough for the NHL office to make an effort to clarify its rulings.
Matthew Coller is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network, and is a freelance writer. He can be followed on Twitter
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