Next TV deal may help NHL owners in long run
(Last in a two-part series)
Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley sent out a distress call last month that was likely heard loud and clear by Commissioner Gary Bettman and the other 30 NHL owners.
Foley told ESPN.com's Greg Wyshynski that if fans are not allowed into arenas next season "a lot of teams can't make it. That's including us."
Foley went on to say he doesn't believe Bettman "is going to have us fly all around (the country) and play in empty arenas."
In Friday's article we explored a few ways in which the NHL could go ahead with the 2021 season. One of those options included "Bubble Hubs" in which teams congregate in four cities and play each other on a rotating basis.
This option obviously wouldn't sit well with Foley or plenty of other owners.
It's impossible to know where we'll be with the coronavirus pandemic come mid-January, which is about the time the NHL is likely to start. It's possible that some teams may want their buildings to be filled to 25 or even 50 percent capacity if rapid testing can be done on site.
Regardless of what happens, it's likely the owners will take it on the nose financially in 2021.
Without getting into the intricate details, players did agree to play for 72 percent of their salaries in the collective bargaining agreement that was signed before the league conducted the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. The owners also agreed to cap escrow -- which is the amount withheld from players' paychecks to assure a 50/50 revenue split -- over the following five seasons as follows:
• Between 14-18 percent in 2021-22
• Ten percent in 2022-23
• Six percent in the following three seasons
This would seem like a big win for the players, especially when one considers that players lost 9.56% of their salaries in 2018-19, 8.35% in 2017-18 and 12.54% in 2016-17.
But there's a golden goose that the owners are banking on -- and it has to do with the NHL's television contract, which expires after next season. That contract, which is with NBC, pays the league $200 million a year.
There's no doubt that the popularity of the league has been growing over the last decade. Regular-season viewership in 2018-19 was up 2% over the previous season, and the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs was the highest rated postseason in 23 years, according to hockeywriters.com.
To no one's surprise, ratings for the 2020 playoffs took a huge hit as the NHL tried to compete with the NBA playoffs and Major League Baseball. A less-than-compelling Stanley Cup Final between Tampa Bay and Dallas didn't help.
Still, owners are hoping the next TV contract fattens their wallets to the point that those escrow percentages aren't even necessary.
Only time will tell, of course.
Meanwhile, it is possible that owners could balk, completely stop the season and force players to rework the CBA.
"Some individual teams may want to (rework the CBA), but the selling point is the new TV deal," one agent told me.
Another said that if the two sides came together to complete last season, there's no reason to think everyone can't keep playing nice as 2021 dawns.
"The union and the NHL have done two deals on short-term notice -- both in the spring when the coronavirus canceled the season and then to start (the playoffs) -- and did a pretty good job coming together," the second agent said. "So there's no reason to think there's not a deal to be made that'll keep us going until we get back to full (play)."