The NHL’s return to play in hub cities was a success. Will we ever know how big the bill was for that to happen?
The NHL’s season restart was a success. The ultimate goal of awarding the 2020 Stanley Cup championship was achieved with an impeccable health and safety record. The Tampa Bay Lightning were able to win their second cup in franchise history in a hub city with no fans in the stands, unless you count the ones used in an amazing pun.
At the end of the day, the NHL is still a business. Winning hockey games is great but everything comes down to the almighty dollar. Will we ever see financials from the NHL bubble? How much money did the NHL spend? How much did they save? More importantly, how much in losses did they avoid by resuming a season that stopped in mid-March?
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While the NHL hasn’t released any cost analysis from their two hub city bubbles, the NBA has. Initial Reuter’s estimates priced the NBA bubble at over $150 million. Yahoo Sports reports the final cost was $180 million, but the league would have lost over $1.5 billion had it not restarted their season. Restarting their season also allowed the NBA to fulfill all important television and sponsorship contracts, through unconventional means obviously.
The NBA’s bubble financials are simple to understand for one major reason: they only dealt with one vendor in Disney. The entire NBA bubble was in Walt Disney World in Florida. The Disney complex was able to provide courts, hotels, restaurants, etc. Commissioner Adam Silver only had to write one big check to the mouse.
Meanwhile the NHL had two separate bubble cities, and dealt with different hotels and providers in each. Even if the NHL wanted to go to Disney, the lack of ice rinks in the Orlando resort made that not even an option.
One thing the NHL bubble had that the NBA bubble didn’t was its own arenas. While the NBA used the ESPN Wide World of sports complex for their games, the NHL bubble cities were centered on actual NHL rinks used by actual NHL teams. It didn’t prove to me much of an advantage for the “home” team Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers, but playing games in rinks with NHL tenants made scheduling the tournament easier.
Without fans, any money the NHL was to make, or any losses to avoid, would come from their sponsorships and television revenue. Early on, we wondered if the NHL would play enough games to possibly satisfy regional television contracts. Considering the NHL went into a weird hybrid regular season and post season “qualifying round” model, it’s hard to even speculate. Although anyone who watched noticed there was no shortage of ads in the arena.
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Even if they don’t put a dollar amount of it, the NHL avoided losses with their season restart. More importantly they avoided a year without a Stanley Cup champion. The league got its money, and Tampa Bay got its Stanley Cup.