NHL needs to salvage this season more than any other sport

The NHL needs to continue their season more than any other professional sports league.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has sabotaged all walks of life in 2020. The world of sports has come to a screeching halt longer than any other point in time, becoming non essential when it has always been essential to many. While every major team sport has been devastated by this stoppage, the NHL has endured the most devastating blow. Salvaging anything from this lost season would benefit the future growth of this sport moving forward.

There have been debates on all major team sports resuming their respective seasons, except for the National Football League (NFL), which hasn’t lost any games yet, but has endured a compromised offseason program. The NFL has released its schedule for the 2020 season but haven’t sold tickets yet, remaining flexible to the idea of playing games without fans in attendance.

Major League Baseball (MLB) has been the most vocal, with players concerned with injury in a shortened season. The National Basketball Association (NBA) has been working on ideas but have been the most quiet publicly on their front on what they might do moving forward, though that should change soon.

Then there is the NHL, actively trying to salvage the 2019-2020 season to its completion. While there haven’t been any official words on any set plans, heavy rumors of a 24 team playoff season with no fans in attendance over the summer make it seem more likely with every passing day.

The main difference between the NHL and the other major sports listed above is the large gap of revenue gained year to year, coming in last every year in generating revenue. While every sport takes a massive hit here, the blow to the NHL has been the most crippling.

While the NFL, MLB and NBA have enjoyed huge spikes in revenue, revenue sharing and higher salary cap ceilings (MLB doesn’t have a salary cap but charge heavy tax teams that go over a set threshold), the NHL has had steady but small increases comparatively. To a smaller scale, it is comparable to a smaller business feeling more of an impact than bigger businesses.

The NHL has the most incentives to salvage the damaging losses from all sides of the spectrum. There is no recouping the millions in lost revenue, but it makes sense for them to salvage all they can towards the future. From fans to players, all the way up the ladder of the front offices, everyone involved has something to gain, whether fans are in attendance or not.

For fans, the incentive is a no brainer, as games being played in any capacity is better than no games at all. In a time where people are suffering their own personal losses and lives have been turned upside down, it would be a welcomed distraction and closer to a return to normalcy for many. As the world slowly opens back up, most people will still stay home so the audience will be there.

The hardcore NHL fans who miss this game the most will be tuned in whenever there is a game on. There is a huge possibility for new fans to be gained from resuming, especially if the NBA and/or MLB decide not to resume.

If the NHL is the only team sport playing over the summer, all eyes will be on hockey. Any sports fan will tune in to see the competition, even some fans that didn’t like hockey in the past. The hardcore fans will always be there whether the NHL resumes or not, but the opportunity for gaining fans who will become more casual to hardcore fans in the future would help soften the immediate losses. Brand awareness would become an investment in generating revenue towards the future.

The incentive for the players is they want the bigger contracts in the future. Operating with the smallest Salary Cap (or threshold) in all major sports, more revenue means a bigger salary cap in revenue sharing which means more money for themselves in future contracts.

There were projections of the NHL salary cap for next season increasing to roughly eight million more dollars than it was this past season before the stoppage. That would have been the biggest year to year increase in decades, which means the overall popularity of the NHL was moving in the right direction.

Not only is the big salary cap jump not likely to happen for next season, but it might take a couple of years to get to that height again. With brand awareness being the huge focal point of resuming, more new fans of the NHL being generated on top of the existing fans will help revenue in the future which will help the players get bigger contracts down the road.

The incentive for the owners and front offices go hand in hand with the player’s incentives to a bigger scale. Pleasing the existing fans while generating more new fans would bring more revenue in the future. More new fans means less empty seats in arenas when the world really turns back to normal.

They will lose out without fans showing up to games this season, which is a loss on ticket sales, food, beverage and merchandise revenue. The brand awareness will be the big investment towards the future, making hardcore fans more loyal while potentially adding strength to casual and brand new fans to the NHL.

The 24 team playoff format in the NHL is a fun idea and is complain proof. It is the best possible scenario I have seen. What is normally a 16 team playoff out of 31 teams overall, it elevates the “anything can happen” scenarios that could have played out with every team losing 5-7 games left on their schedules.

With an uneven number of games being played by all teams at the March 12th stoppage, there was no clean cut and fair way to distinguish 16 playoff teams. Borderline playoff teams would be in with no questions asked and would still have to fight their way through the Stanley Cup Playoffs to eventually win the championship. Existing higher seeded playoff teams will have the same opportunities they would have normally had while having to fight the same battles to win the Stanley Cup, just different opponents to battle.

Any way you look at it, any one of the 24 teams that eventually wins the 2019-2020 Stanley Cup will have earned it. 24 playoff teams over the normal 16 playoff teams gives more cities hockey, bringing back more existing fans while potentially adding new hockey fans along the way.

One fun add on to this wrinkle in format and timing would be players returning from injury to play that were ruled out for the season. Teams that were at a disadvantage losing star players will now have them available and ready for action, making matchup outcomes that much more unpredictable and compelling.

Like everything else in life as we know it right now, all sports are in a fluid situation with no set solutions or precedents. The effects of the novel coronavirus have lessened but it isn’t over yet, and won’t be for a while. The health and safety of everyone involved is the main goal in any plan towards the future being executed.

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There are still a lot of details to iron out and risk/reward factors with playing in the summer, pushing back the start of the 2020-2021. There is also the great possibility of compromising the middle and back end of next season with compressed schedules and playing more games in shorter amounts of time causing more player injuries. If all factors are safe enough to have a possible mini training camp and 24 team playoff, salvaging anything from this lost NHL season would benefit the league in the future.

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