Bruins President Cam Neely ended a Friday morning Zoom call with reporters by saying he thinks the NHL “did a fantastic job of getting us all in the best position to play” this summer, and that’s been borne out by the way things have gone in the first few days of games inside the bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.
But the Hall of Fame power forward and Bruins President also admitted during the 20-minute interview that it’s difficult to see the NHL moving forward beyond the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs unless there are fans allowed back inside NHL buildings.
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The league is spending millions and millions of dollars this summer to play things out in the Hub Cities, test thousands of players and personnel on a daily basis and make certain there was a conclusion to the season that was interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak in North America.
As the NHL is underway with exhibition games and with actual playoff games coming in the next few days, it looks like they have the safe, secure concept with the bubble setup in the Canadian cities. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a sustainable model moving forward once the NHL attempts to ramp up again for a start to the 2020-21 NHL regular season in December or January.
The empty arenas absolutely work right now for the short term of a two-month playoff situation, but Neely isn't quite sure that's a viable solution for a league that relies somewhat heavily on ticket revenue to sustain the business.
“It’ll be difficult to play many [NHL] games without fans from a business perspective. We’ll wait and see when we start next year. Let’s get through this season and see what happens next season,” Neely said. “I think everybody is anticipating some kind of a spike [of COVID-19] in the fall. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but I don’t know that you can play too many games without fans. Everybody [across the NHL] is building out their models without fans, 1/3 [full of] fans, 1/2 [full of] fans and full buildings, but it’s all speculation right now what we think we’re going to see at the start of next season.”
Clearly there will be plenty of moving parts to the entire operation. Will the NHL even be able to see the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs through to the end without any outbreaks or major interruptions due to testing issues? Will there be a viable vaccine for COVID-19 by the holiday season that could usher in possibilities for life to get back to some level of normalcy for everybody in the United States and Canada?
How much of a second wave will be there be in the fall for places like Boston and New York City when COVID-19 is unfortunately still spiking in many parts of the U.S., including many regions that are home to NHL clubs that aren’t likely to be able to host professional sporting events any time in the near future?
There are many, many questions right now facing the NHL when it comes to the 2020-21 season, but one of the answers appears to be that it may not be economically viable until franchises feel comfortable putting fans back in the seats.