How much the NHL could make by restarting its season

July 8, 2020, 5:00 PM UTC

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The National Hockey League is gearing up for a return. On Monday, the league and its players’ union announced an agreement to finish the 2019–20 season with a 24-team postseason tournament starting Aug. 1. The plan hinges on strict health and safety protocols, including daily COVID-19 testing for players and staff, but, as of now, the NHL is set to resume action for the first time since March 12.

The decision isn’t without controversy. The novel coronavirus pandemic is still raging across the U.S., leading the NHL to reportedly center the remaining games in two Canadian hub cities, Toronto and Edmonton. A week before the restart was agreed upon, Sportsnet reporter Eric Engels, quoting players anonymously, said, “One player said a majority of the players do not want to return to play this summer. Estimated 75%.”

Engels quoted another saying: “Calls with the NHL [Players’ Association] have been ‘a joke’” and that they merely revolved around the financial incentives. This speaks to the point that while the spirit of competition and a sense of closure is important to some, there are financial stakes hinging on the season’s completion, as well.

The NHL would stand to lose out on roughly $1 billion if the season was not completed, according to projections from the Associated Press and other outlets. As of now, total revenues for the 2019–20 season sit at $3.9 billion, the Los Angeles Times reported. The season before, the NHL brought in just over $5 billion.

A big part of that revenue comes from a hefty television deal with NBC. The NHL signed a 10-year national deal with NBC in 2011 that nets the league $200 million annually in the U.S. alone. The NHL also has a national TV deal with Canada’s Rogers Communications worth $4.9 billion over 12 years, beginning in 2013. These totals don’t count various deals signed with local broadcasters, as well. Per the Philadelphia Inquirer, completing the playoff tournament could net the NHL roughly $500 million altogether in TV revenue.

There are stakes beyond this season when it comes to TV revenue. The NBC deal is set to expire in 2021, and the NHL will be looking for the best possible leverage when it comes to negotiating a new contract.

For now, it looks like the NHL will get some of that leverage back with plans to finish the season in place. Players are set to return to training camp on July 13, and there will be a chance to see how fans respond to watching empty-arena games for the remainder of the season.

The NHL is not the only league looking to finish what was started: NBA players have reported to Disney World in Orlando to compete in a similar style tournament, and MLB recently announced a schedule for a shortened season. Meanwhile, major soccer league competition in Europe has been underway for several weeks now, albeit in empty stadiums, to finish the teams’ respective seasons.

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