NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league is well-positioned to contend with any reduction in expected revenue following its decision to pause its 2019-20 season on Thursday due to the worsening coronavirus outbreak.
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The NHL was one of several U.S. sports leagues to suspend play on Thursday, hours after Rudy Gobert of the NBA’s Utah Jazz tested positive for coronavirus. While the decision to halt NHL games will impact ticket revenue, Bettman told FOX Business Network anchor Liz Claman that the losses would be manageable given the league’s current economics, with far more revenue coming from media rights deals.
“All of the sports leagues are going to be suffering a diminution in the revenues that they would otherwise get, except our hope is that we’re going to be able to come back,” Bettman said on “The Claman Countdown.” “We’re going to be able to complete the season on a credible basis and the potential loss will be minimized.”
Bettman noted that the NHL had already generated much of its expected ticket revenue this season with roughly 190 games left out of its 1,271-game regular season. The NHL is not as “gate-dependent” as it was a decade ago, he added.
U.S. sports leagues that are in season are expecting a noticeable financial impact due to the outbreak. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has indicated that its season will shut down for at least 30 days, while the NCAA was forced to cancel its most lucrative event, the March Madness basketball tournaments.
Bettman said the NHL considered a variety of contingency plans in recent weeks until Gobert’s diagnosis forced a decisive action.
“Every one of those scenarios in my mind had a caveat that once a player tested positive, we were done playing at that point in time,” he said. “When the Utah Jazz player in the NBA tested positive and the players weren’t able to play the game and had to leave the court and they had to, in effect, have the fans leave what looked like a full building, it was clear to me that it was only going to be a matter of time before one of our players would test positive if we continued playing.”
To date, no NHL player has tested positive for coronavirus. More than 1,600 individual cases have been reported in the U.S.
Bettman said NHL players will continue to receive their salaries during the season pause.
“We have a payroll check coming this weekend, which they’ll receive,” he said. “They have another payroll check, I think it’s their last full payment under the player contract at the end of the month and they’re being paid."