The NHL & Preds '20-21? It's a Waiting Game
(CU) - December 1st is being reported as a start date for the NHL’s 2020-21 season. I wouldn’t hold my breath for that faceoff just yet
This strange 2020 NHL playoff season has moved on without the Predators and it leaves many of us wondering when the NHL will return to Broadway. A market the size of Nashville needs sellouts or near sellouts on a regular basis to remain competitive. With the current state of North America, and requirements of social distancing for all events, we’ve inherited a major obstacle to those sellouts. The absence of ticket sales will leave the Preds in a losing financial position, never mind one of the nations busiest arena operations taking a bath. Is it necessary to mention Nashville's mayor signaling his strong distaste for any form of social gatherings?
As a frame of reference, the NHL’s ticket sales contribute approximately 37% towards its total revenue. That’s significant when comparing those same margins to MLB’s 27%, the NBA’s 22%, and the NFL’s 16%.
Recently a hockey show host ask an interesting question, “What if the NHL can sell tickets and fans just decide not buy them for fear of contracting covid?” Don’t dismiss the question out of hand. That type of covid fear will linger well past the point of there being safe gatherings of groups. There’s going to be a premium placed on creativity within the business halls of the NHL.
The other issue? Look at the near breaking point the NBA is undergoing. Is it stress from the bubble? Possibly. Is it the result of an echo chamber with players, staff, and media all mimicking the same social concerns? Probably. Let’s say the NHL develops a short-term plan to financially handle operations without ticket sales. Will the players go back into a bubble? Doubtful.
If players are reaching their breaking points after a few weeks in the bubble, 82 games and the playoffs are out of the question. A short-term sacrifice towards completing a season is quite different from the players lives becoming micromanaged bubble residents. If you listen to the media, and they tend to control the narrative, there is no end in sight to the covid pandemic in the United States. And you may not want to hear this, but December 1st only 90 days away.
Fans are interested in the meetings and specific benchmarks needed to make the 20-21 season happen. And if not, what then becomes a legitimate return date? Surely, the NHL won’t operate next year’s season as playoff tournament with no season. Will the NHL be forced into temporarily moving to straight the playoff tournaments? If so, how does the league determine which teams qualify?
Another obstacle is the numbers of states, provinces, cities, and multiple countries being involved in managing covid. To reduce this issue, the NHL is even considering an all Canada division for next season to help ease the issue. Playing at home and away in empty arenas by using the MLB approach may be another option. But haven’t they had repetitive covid issues too?
What about the NHL’s lost revenue and how it impacts salaries? The relationship between the players and owners will be tested. The team owners will be forced to impose salary reductions among the players and that “proof of life” information will be a hotly contested sticking point with the player's union.
The pandemic may also result in contraction of franchises in the league. The NHL already has multiple teams struggling even in the good times. The Toronto Star recently suggested the NHL could see a positive economic impact after the COVID-19 crisis settles itself down, but under the assumption a couple of teams go out of business first. The list of likely suspects will not surprise anyone and can be found in the paper's link.
Sacrificing part of the 2020-21 regular season to put NHL hockey back on track for 2021-22 is a workable plan, with the model being 1994-95's shortened season is a strong possibility. A shortened 2020-21 regular season has begun to emerge as a favorite with a full return beginning in the 2021-22 regular season.
That shortened season can be done if the NHL and the NHLPA agree to a shortened 2020-21 season. And we’ve all heard the rumblings about the current state of hockey and each week shows more and more cracks. Get some popcorn and pull up a chair - this is going to get interesting. For some NHL teams and cities, it’s quickly becoming a question of staying alive.