NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday afternoon dismissed any notion that the league will not be able to resume 2019-2020 season and award the Stanley Cup at some point over the next several months.
Appearing as a guest in a virtual town hall hosted by the San Jose Sharks for members of its business alliance, Bettman, responding to a question, said ending a season without crowning a champion is, “not something I’m even contemplating.”
“I believe that if the right time comes, and the right circumstances, based on all of the options that we’re considering and our ability to execute them, we’ll get this season done,” Bettman said. “I don’t want to sound Pollyanna, but canceling is too easy a solution. That means you stop working hard to do all of the things that we’re doing, and I ultimately believe that there will be an opportunity.”
The NHL is hoping to move to phase two of resuming the 2019-20 season, which is allowing players to skate in small groups, by the end of May.
“We would like to bring a conclusion to this season,” Bettman said. “It’s got to be fair, it’s got to have integrity, and if we have to do it over the summer on some modified basis, then we’ll do it on that basis.”
Larry Brooks of the New York Post first reported that the NHL’s focus of returning to play has shifted from finishing the 2019-20 regular season to going straight to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 24 teams, including a best-of-three play-in round.
“Obviously we hope to be playing in front of fans by next season,” Bettman said. “But if we finish in August or September, there’s no magic to starting in October anymore. We can start in November. We can start in December.
The NHL is currently in the process of picking four cities to finish the regular season but sports will start out without fans in arenas. According to The Athletic‘s Pierre LeBrun, St. Paul, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Columbus, and Dallas were among the 12 cities being discussed for neutral-site games
“You’re going to be a little flexible with the schedule, because we want to be able to bring the game back, both to conclude this season on some basis and to have a full regular season next year. If that means we need to be more flexible, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Gate revenue is approximately 36.6% of the NHL’s entire revenue for a season (30% in baseball, 22% in NBA basketball, and 15% in the NFL). And although the league completed approximately 85% of the 2019-2020 regular season, Steve Simons of the Toronto Sun is reporting that playing games to empty arenas to complete the 2019-2020 season will mean the NHL will lose nearly $500 million in potential revenue. There is nothing the league can do about that.
However, getting the regular season and playoffs finished, even to empty arenas, could save the league another $500 million in lost revenue that will come from network television and sponsorship. You can quickly see why the NHL is determined to finish the season.
By Jon Sorensen