NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said months ago that he hoped the league could begin the coronavirus-delayed 2020-21 season on December 1, but that deadline came and went. Bettman then adjusted his target date to January 1, but that now seems unlikely.
Even with a shortened training camp and limited practice games, January 1 can come too early.
During a Wednesday night in New York at a sports affairs forum, Bettman described the season’s opening game as “a work in progress.” He blamed the slowdown on the proliferation of business in North America rather than an ongoing dispute over economics between the owners and players.
Both factors are likely to be true and both are likely to be equally to blame.
“That’s a work in progress, largely influenced by what we learn from medical experts,” said Bettman of the delay in announcing a start date. “COVID is going through a second wave, which could be worse than the first wave, and between Thanksgiving and the aftermath and what they think is going to happen for Christmas and the aftermath, we’re taking our time and making sure we have ways to move forward. We are focused on health and safety and doing the right thing. ”
Bettman said during the Sports Business Journal’s “ Dealmakers in Sports ” panel discussion that he hoped the availability of a vaccine for COVID-19 would allow the NHL to do business as usual in 2021-22, when the league expands. up to 32 teams with the addition of an expansion franchise in Seattle.
“We are hopeful and optimistic, based on everything we hear, that we can get back to normal in ’21-22,” he said.
Bettman also pointed out the lack of progress in discussions between the owners and the players’ union about concessions demanded by the property to limit costs. The union has reportedly opposed what it sees as a renegotiation following an agreement in July on an extension of the cost-benefit analysis to 2025-2026.
The players don’t want to change the salary deferral and escrow rates they have already agreed to.
However, this season is likely to be held without fans present, and owners are concerned about a lack of revenue for the gate-driven league. The Ducks announced leave and layoffs on Tuesday for some of their employees due to, for example, the financial blow as a result of the pandemic.
Brian Burke, a former Ducks general manager who is now a television analyst, told Canadian Sportsnet that he recently spoke with an unnamed GM who said his club would lose $ 60 million in a 60-game 2020-21 season, but only $ 15 million if the season is canceled.
Several owners would be in favor of waiting for the pandemic to reboot 2021-22.
Others want to play despite an expected larger drop in revenues for 2020-21.
“If you think long-term, what’s a franchise worth right now?” Burke said. “I don’t think much when we’re not playing. How do you distribute the losses? Because you are going to lose money by playing without fans or socially distant fans. We’ll be fine if we get a vaccine.
“But to my mind it would be catastrophic not to play, so the players will have to figure out what is the biggest haircut they can live with. But in my mind, if we don’t play, you’re talking about a catastrophic, devastating effect on the league in the US that will be reflected in the new TV deal. ”
Burke was referring to the end of the NHL’s contract with NBC, which expires next summer.
Bettman acknowledged that there will be “tensions” in the economic system because of the pandemic. He said the league was trying to work with the players and defended the owners’ desire to temporarily restructure their agreement with the players.
“I know it’s portrayed as something different and that’s a shame and it’s inaccurate because at the end of the day when the system gets stressed it gets stressed out for both of us,” he said, referring to the owners and players. . “So the question isn’t, it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re demanding a renegotiation.’
It’s like, ‘We see how the system will be affected. Is it something that makes sense to deal with in the context of everything else we need to do, which is unusual and unexpected, to possibly to be able to play? ”