As of this writing, it has been 42 days since sports leagues shuttered in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In those 42 days since, a lot of rumors have swirled about what sports leagues may attempt to keep games on television during this quarantine.
Hockey, and the NHL, are in a unique situation within the American sports world. Hockey rinks and major arenas fitted with rinks are fewer and further between than, say, professional level baseball fields or basketball gyms.
Other American sports are looking at smaller, neutral sites, within states that would allow them to hold events, if they are even looking at all. Hockey is doing this as well, but they are limited to places that would have ample ice for an entire league of NHLers.
Florida has become a hotspot for rumors about the return of sports, thanks in large part to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis lifting the stay at home order for athletes and professional wrestlers. Reports from the baseball world show that league officials are looking at Florida as a base for the league, similar to what teams already do for Spring Training.
Simply, professional level hockey rinks do not abound quite the way professional level baseball fields do in the United States. At best, each state has a small handful of adequate facilities for hockey, if that state has more than one professional or high level college team.
The NHL recognizes that proper accommodations are critical for ensuring the quality of the game played, and according to ESPN NHL writer Greg Wyshynski, any scattered plans the league had for a neutral site, non-NHL arena season are officially dead.
North Dakota and New Hampshire were rumored spots for the summer quarantine version of the NHL season, both having high level hockey facilities available. Even still, the NHL found that those locales were not feasible between housing players, splitting time at the arenas and televising the games.
Television is why this is even attempted, or even thought of. The NHL is in the middle of a quite lucrative $5 billion dollar TV deal with Rogers in Canada that ends in 2025, and are at the end of a $2 billion dollar deal with NBC in the U.S.
The league was due to renegotiate a new U.S. TV deal following the ’19-’20 season. Brad Adgate in Forbes writes that NBC Chairman Mark Lazarus wants that renegotiation to happen, and would prefer if the NHL stayed exclusively on NBC and NBC Sports.
The NHL lags in ratings behind the other American sports, including soccer, but is hot on the heels of the most watched Stanley Cup Playoffs in a quarter of a century. Game Seven of the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals, which saw the St. Louis Blues lift their first Stanley Cup, was the most-watched NHL game on record, averaging over 9 million viewers.
So where does the NHL go now? With a summer Quaran-League off the table, and players and teams currently adamant about finishing the ’19-’20 season, the league sits at an impasse.
A rumored plan is to restart the NHL season when the next one would usually begin, October, and then starting the next season immediately afterward. That creates a log jam for the next few years.
The plan the NHL, nor any league for that matter, wants to talk about is flatout cancellation, which is why pie-in-the-sky concepts of millionaire athletes living in hotels like dorms for a season are even floated out into the ether. Until there is a vaccine readily available for everyone on the planet for this virus that kills thousands every day, games should not happen that create congregations of people.
Leagues want to make their TV money, and not having games to air will not do that!
Unfortunately for the NHL’s shareholders and their TV partners, there is no way to accurately judge when a pandemic will just end on its own. As much as they want to put out a product to keep the money flow coming, they cannot without risking lives.
Like the rest of us in quarantine, hockey will just have to wait.