AHL Season On The Brink: Opportunity Lost For Hershey Bears

Photo: Bridgeport Sound Tigers

David Andrews probably didn’t expect his final season as president of the American Hockey League (AHL) to go quite like this. He most likely expected to award the Calder Cup to the league’s champion in June and then ride off into the proverbial sunset. Those plans, like everything else in the world, have been derailed by the coronavirus. The AHL suspended the 2019-20 season on March 12.  Now, Andrews has to spend his final months as president, navigating the AHL through this unprecedented situation.

Recently, Andrews gave an interview to Gord Stelick and Scott Laughlin on Sirius/XM radio about the status of the AHL season. Andrews’ comments are the best indication yet that the season is unlikely to resume.

The reason? The AHL is a gate-driven league. The league’s revenue depends on the money coming from fans each game day. There’s not a large influx of television revenue in the AHL. That is the major difference between the National Hockey League (NHL) and the AHL. The NHL can play in empty arenas and still have money coming into the coffers because of television contracts.

With the absence of the multi-million dollar television contracts, the AHL is left in a position where they have to wait until fans are allowed in the building to restart play. That is unlikely to come any time soon.

Some AHL teams and cities already believe that the season is over. In a taped message on Monday, Belleville, Ontario mayor Mitch Panciuk stated that he believed the AHL would cancel the remainder of the season and playoffs on May 8 during a conference call with the Board of Governors.

A season cancellation, while unsurprising,  would be a huge blow to Hershey Bears fans. The Bears have one of the top teams in the AHL and had expectations of a deep run in the Calder Cup playoffs. The fans now likely have to look ahead to the 2020-21 season. If this season and playoffs are cancelled, the next question becomes the status of next season. Andrews also addressed that in his interview.

As of now, the AHL plans on starting on time in October. There are many things that could change that timeline, mainly whether or not fans are allowed in the buildings and when each home city is allowed to do that. Andrews said that the league is looking at other operating models that include the season starting in November, December and January.  

Incoming AHL president Scott Howson also recently addressed next season with Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal. “Our goal is to start with games in October and have people in the building,” said Howson. “Obviously we’ll listen to health authorities and governments. If that’s not possible we’ll have to be nimble if we can’t start in October. Maybe some jurisdictions won’t open up as quickly as others.”

Howson starts shadowing Andrews on the job on May 1. Clearly, these models for next season will be at the forefront in the discussions. It will be up to Andrews, Howson and the Board of Governors to make sure the AHL is ready for whenever the 2020-21 season commences.

The AHL leadership group seems to be prepared for whatever may come and the league will be ready whenever fans are allowed back. Unfortunately for Hershey and AHL fans, that likely will not be until this season.

By Eric Lord

About Eric Lord

Eric has been a Hershey Bears fan since attending his 1st game at age 8. He has been a season-ticket holder since the 2009-10 season and has been writing about Hershey Bears hockey since 2012. His favorite Bears memory is the team's 1996-97 run to the Calder Cup Championship where Hershey was 5-0 when facing elimination. Eric graduated from Fordham University in 2000 with a bachelors in communication and from Iona College in 2005 with a Masters in Journalism. He is also a photographer and serves as an assistant soccer coach for the Pottsville Area High School girls soccer team.
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