Bettman Speaks: Cheaper for NHL to "Shut Our Doors," In-House Fans, Stagnant Cap, Helmet Sponsors, More

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Bettman Speaks: Cheaper for NHL to “Shut Our Doors,” In-House Fans, Stagnant Cap, Helmet Sponsors, More

Chicago Blackhawks

It’s not surprising, but that doesn’t mean it’s not shocking. On Monday afternoon, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, along with Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, addressed the media on a slew of topics regarding the 2021 season, ranging from COVID-19 concerns to financial losses.

And although there was plenty to take away from their comments, the biggest hammer was dropped by Bettman, who stated that the NHL is facing financial losses in the “B” range, referring to billions (not millions) of dollars.

Without fans in the stands at full capacity for the 56-game, 2021 season, the league is facing a nearly 50 percent loss of revenue.

That revenue, whether directly or indirectly tied to live games with fans (i.e. ticket sales, parking costs, concessions, etc.), is what the league is going to be tasked to make up (one way or another).

(MICHAEL: We’ve seen this sentiment a lot over the past year, owners and commissioners indicating how much cheaper it would be to avoid a season entirely than to pay to play a shortened season for a year. But for reasons all too easy to discern, these conversations always leave out the indirect cost of skipping an entire season. The short-terms savings are not worth the potential long-term losses).

And note: only four teams will open their season with any number of fans in the building this year, including Arizona, Dallas, St. Louis, and Florida. Meanwhile, Nashville and Tampa Bay were technically allowed to host fans in a limited capacity but declined to do so.

Bettman has overseen three work stoppages since becoming the league’s first (and so far only) Commissioner back in February 1993. There is plenty to rip him for when it comes to the lost full or partial seasons in 1994-95, 2004-05, and 2012-13. The league and owners should hold part of the blame for those losses.

But to his credit, Bettman and the NHL were able to make the 2020 playoffs happen after the COVID stoppage last March. Now, the league is able to salvage a 56-game schedule for the 2021 season. It won’t be without challenges, already the Dallas Stars have endured a virus outbreak, but the league is determined to make the season work.

The NBA has returned to play outside of a bubble and have already run into game postponements, including the Bulls on Tuesday night. The NFL had games moved around the schedule this season and MLB had multiple teams miss huge swaths of the season early on.

With the Stars missing the start of the season, games around the league have already had to be rescheduled and it likely won’t be the last time it will happen. But the league, which had extensive daily testing for the 2020 bubble playoffs, will not be pushing their way ahead of others for the COVID vaccine for player and staff safety.

One way the league is attempting to salvage their lost revenue is by allowing teams to place sponsorship ads on their helmets this season.

Personally, I’m all for the league attempting to recoup those “B” losses. Anything short of having your players turn into skating billboards, I’m on board. The helmet ads will only be in place for the 2021 season, for now. The concern many fans have is over-selling ad space on uniforms or equipment by the league. For now, Bettman says the helmets is as far as they will go.

The Chicago Blackhawks are still one of the few teams in the league yet to name a helmet sponsor for the 2021 season. Your guess is as good as mine as whom that sponsor will be, (come on Old Style) but likely it will be United Airlines.

All this comes during the final year of the NHL’s $2 billion TV deal with NBC. With the losses from the end of the 2019-20 season, as well as the lost revenue during 2021, the expectation is that networks bidding for the league’s rights will likely have to up the ante. Reports have come out that major networks like FOX, CBS, and ESPN will be bidding for the league’s broadcast rights along with NBC.

It’s a mess, but the league is making the decision to play this season for the best interest of the players and fans alike. Hopefully the financial impact won’t be felt for too many years down the road, although we already know that the league salary cap will be stagnant at $81.5 million for at least next season in 2021-22.

From the NHL:

The salary cap could grow incrementally following next season provided hockey-related revenues (HRR) begin to recover from losses created by the impact of the coronavirus, which caused the season to be paused March 12.

The cap will remain at $81.5 million until hockey-related revenue surpasses $3.3 billion for the previous season. The salary cap won’t rise more than $1 million until HRR reaches $4.8 billion unless the NHL and NHLPA mutually agree to inflate it in excess of $1 million.

Once HRR reaches $4.8 billion, the cap could increase by $2 million per season and transition to a formula-based calculation for establishing the cap for the 2023-24 season and beyond. 

Yeah, messy.

The season begins on Wednesday night for the NHL and for the Blackhawks, who will be in Tampa taking on the Lightning. Without fans in the stands. Here’s to hoping the league can get all 31 teams on and off the ice for all 56 of their games as safely as possible, and that we’re not reeling from “B” losses again.

Author: Mario Tirabassi

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.