Financial Icing: How COVID-19 is Impacting Minor League Hockey

Photo: Roanoke Rail Yard Dogs

A world without sports has been devastating to many of us. For most, sports serve as a major source of entertainment. Others have made careers out of it. The financial ramifications of the worldwide sports shutdown have been tough on many, as a handful of NHL franchises have faced backlash due to their policies on how they are handling paying both full and part-time staff members. Despite all of this, it is fortunate that out of all professional hockey leagues in the world, the NHL is the most capable of handling a pause in revenue. Lower level leagues such as the Southern Professional Hockey League and the Federal Prospects Hockey League are not so well off.

The Canadian Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League, SPHL and FPHL are not simply on pause as the NHL currently is. All North American minor leagues have already cancelled the entirety of their regular seasons in addition to their playoff tournaments. This cancellation will likely be detrimental to a handful of teams in the lower leagues.

Teams like the SPHL’s Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs lost seven home games as a result of the cancellation. SPHL teams only play 28 home games a season, so losing seven is a quarter of those games. Which is effectively taking away 25% of their operating revenue for the year.

Despite the loss of income, many teams are trying to stay optimistic. Rail Yard Dawgs President Mickey Gray was quoted saying “The financial impact of losing one-fourth of our home schedule this season will be substantial. Despite this setback, we will pick ourselves up off the mat and we will endure.” Roanoke’s rival, the Fayetteville Marksmen, were quite a bit more honest about the situation than most teams have been so far. The Marksmen also lost seven home games, six games to end the regular season and one guaranteed playoff game. That is an estimated $300,000 loss in revenue. Marksmen owner Chuck Norris did not sugarcoat the situation. “It’s not financially possible for the teams to absorb the cost of housing the players, paying the salaries of the players and our front-office staff when we have no way to generate revenue,” Norris told the Fayetteville Observer.

SPHL and FPHL teams generate revenue primarily through tickets, merchandise sales, and sponsorships. Most SPHL teams have an operating budget of $1.1 million while the FPHL budgets about $750k. These funds are used to pay for player housing and salaries as well as front office salaries. Teams like Roanoke and Fayetteville certainly got the short end of the stick. Organizations who had already played most, if not all, of their home games would only lose out of revenue from a small handful of games plus playoff games. No teams have come out and said they are going to have to close up shop due to the loss of revenue, but as Norris said, this is not going to be an easy pill to swallow.

The loss being suffered due to the cancellation of the hockey season doesn’t simply stop with the organization and staff. Several players are potentially having their final season before retirement cut short. Many of whom had a real shot at a championship run. While players have been mostly understanding that these decisions were made for the greater good, the overwhelming consensus has been the loss of the season is very frustrating. Then there are the fans. The bread and butter that allows professional sports to even exist. Not only has the end of the regular season and playoff tournament been abruptly pulled out from underneath them, but many may lose their hockey team altogether. Loyal fans who come out to support their local team at every game may lose that luxury due to COVID-19. While NHL teams and their affiliates are fortunate enough to be able to have the resources to survive the pandemic, the future is very uncertain for those outside of the NHL’s umbrella.

By Jesse Gilbert

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His passion for the Caps has grown over the decades, which has included time as a season ticket holder, social media and community organizer, and most recently led to the founding of NoVa Caps in 2014. Jon earned a Bachelor's of Science in Engineering at Old Dominion University, and is a Systems Engineer during intermissions, which has been instrumental in supporting his Capitals habit.
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1 Response to Financial Icing: How COVID-19 is Impacting Minor League Hockey

  1. Anonymous says:

    The AHL is on pause not cancelled!!

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