The American Hockey League has pushed back its target date for a return to the ice.
Originally earmarked for the beginning of December, the main feeder league for the NHL is now aiming to start an abbreviated season on Feb. 5, 2021. This is in response to the ongoing public health challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, of course.
American Hockey League President Scott Howson said all other details surrounding the return to play remain undetermined.
The many challenges facing the NHL and other major hockey leagues are only amplified at the minor-league level. American Hockey League organizations depend heavily on the gate to generate break-even revenue, let alone modest profits. It’s imperative that some fans are allowed through the arena doors for the AHL to maintain a viable business model in 2020-21.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the American Hockey League to cancel the remainder of its season and the Calder Cup Playoffs last spring. While it will not have the financial wherewithal to create bubbles or hub cities, or lean on some of the expensive strategies other organizations are using, the league will have to be creative to avoid another huge loss. One solution might require the league to move franchises north of the border to allow a re-aligned division to operate exclusively in Canada, and in lockstep with the NHL.
Dealing with its own set of circumstances, the NHL has not shifted its focus from a potential Jan. 1 start to its season, though many close to the situation would consider that timetable optimistic. Latest reports suggest that it would delay its season, and therefore shorten it significantly, if it meant having increased capacities inside the arenas.
Theoretically, the AHL season could extend further into the summer months than the NHL’s, which could see its partnership with NBC — and the possibility of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics being staged this summer — determine its scheduling window.
That extra runway could allow the AHL to stretch out the schedule and gain some meaningful revenue as the public health situation (hopefully) improves.
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