The NHL is likely going to play next season, but several owners are already grappling with the economic realities of possibly taking the ice with limited to no ticket sales. Currently, in the United States, the coronavirus pandemic is raging out of control as the country set a new daily record of positive cases (99.784) on October 30 with no end in sight.
ESPN’s Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski reported on Monday that several NHL owners suggested to Gary Bettman that the NHL might be better off financially not playing.
Bettman resisted the idea. Per Kaplan and Wyshynski’s reporting:
According to several sources, a few owners have suggested to Bettman that the league might be better off financially if it shuts down next season, since playing in empty arenas could be crippling to the bottom line. The NHL is still very much a gate-driven league in comparison to a league like the NFL, which draws most of its revenue from media rights. Bettman responded that the NHL can’t lose a season because it’s too damaging in the long term, as the league has learned before in lockout seasons.
Not only would a canceled season further accelerate an enthusiasm gap for fans going into the 2021-22 season, but the NHL’s broadcasting rights deal in the United States ends after next sseason. The league is currently in negotiations with NBC to extend its contract, per The Athletic.
The ESPN story further stated that the NHL would play no fewer than 48 games next season and return to its traditional 16-team playoff next year. The NHL publicly announced that they are targeting January 1, 2021, as its start date, but that still remains far from certain.
While the league would like to end its season before the 2021 Summer Olympics on July 23, it’s not a hard stopping point and there are scenarios where they could play past that date.
“There’s a lot left to be played out on the Olympics front too,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “We have models that extend past the Olympic time period. Those are alternatives that are on the table. I can’t tell you they’re the ones that are necessarily going to be pursued, but I think there’s some flexibility there.”
The biggest question mark is fans and how many each team will be allowed to have at games. The league hopes that it will be allowed to have some for a portion of games during the regular season and be at or close to full capacity for the playoffs if local municipalities allow.
But for now, the NHL is in a holding pattern, waiting to see how things further develop.
“It’s premature to be drawing up plans [when] you don’t have a real good idea as to whether they’re practical, feasible or going to be put in place,” Daly said. “At some point, we have to do it. But I think to this point, it’s been the general sentiment that we don’t know enough yet to get more granular than we’ve been.”