Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley appeared on the Vegas Hockey Hotline show with Brian Blessing yesterday, and may have let the cat out of the bag on some of the NHL’s plans for the upcoming season.
Fans in the Stands
It’s no secret that the NHL is gunning for a January 1 restart date for the season, regardless of length. Commissioner Gary Bettman has said on several occasions he wants to hold that line, leaving the potential for a Winter Classic to open the season. While that sounds appealing on many levels, I can’t imagine the league wanting to open its doors – especially with a Winter Classic – that doesn’t feature fans.
“If we’re not playing (in front of) fans, I don’t know if a lot of teams can make it. Including us – it’s going to be very difficult.”
Foley acknowledged he as an owner and other owners would have to make a “serious financial commitment” to fund their teams if fans weren’t allowed in the building. Foley did say he believes Commissioner Bettman has a plan and isn’t looking to play games to empty houses.
The real question is when fans would be allowed back, and how many games would the NHL play. Foley went on to point out that with the Tokyo Olympics moved back to the summer of 2021, the NHL has to wrap this upcoming season by the end of June. NHL American rightsholder NBC has both events, and the Olympics are a massive ratings horse for the network.
Restart Date and Scheduling
Foley did offer his thoughts that he believes the NHL will play an “abbreviated season and an accelerated season,” adding fuel to reports of 48 and 60 game campaigns we’ve heard in recent days. A shortened campaign is not unprecedented, and in fact I was with Nashville last time it happened coming out of the 2012-13 lockout. We played a 48-game season, and it definitely lent some urgency to every game. The feeling was more of a sprint than the typical marathon of the NHL season.
While I understand that maxing out home game revenues with the most games you can have is important, I also would say that a shorter season will generate more intensity and fan passion because of the weight of each game. It could help drive broadcast revenues as well. Clearly the more games the better for the bottom line, but all is not lost with a shortened season.
For his part, Foley predicts less than 60 games, saying he thinks it’s “48 or 56, and it’s going to be a lot of games quickly.”
This has been a hot topic in hockey circles lately. Traveling back-and-forth across the Canadian border presents several health challenges to teams, especially with the border closed to non-essential traffic through at least January 1. Of course, hockey players were designated essential personnel and allowed to cross to enter the bubble earlier this year.
That said, there’s a lot of upside to a seven-team Canadian division, not the least of which would be crazy intensity north of the border. If every other Canadian team is a division rival, those teams and their fans will have one crazy season. Plus it will briefly regionalize the other divisions, something that could lead to new and exciting rivalries.
We already know when it comes to sports fans that change is slow to be embraced, but in the era of COVID-19 we’re getting used to it. I could see the Golden Knights spawning more rivalries with teams like St. Louis, Nashville and resuming its beef with Dallas in the regular season.
For his part, Foley added that he thinks “they’re going to play a Canadian division. I don’t think (teams) are going to be crossing the border.”
Foley on the Bubble
Foley also said that he thought the Golden Knights were “worn out” in the bubble.
“I feel like our guys got a little worn out. They just got tired of being isolated, and I think that showed against Dallas… we just weren’t the same team that we were earlier in the playoffs. It’s too bad, I believe if we had been playing at home, we would have beaten Dallas, and then we would have been in the Stanley Cup, and then we would have seen what happens.
A few media members even had the temerity to suggest that this Cup was easier to win, which invited blowback from fans and from Tampa Bay Lightning players directly. While there was an obvious lack of travel involved, the mental stress on players and staff easily outstripped the physical demands. If you don’t think that matters, consider how easy it is for you to finish any task at work when you’re mentally checked out or stressed. Now make work NHL hockey. Exactly.
As a final thought on a bubble for next season, Foley dismissed the idea.
“I know the Commissioner is dedicated to having a season and awarding the Stanley Cup, but you can’t play in bubbles. It’s impossible. You can’t do it. You can’t afford it.”
Now the wait is on for VGK fans to see when the NHL gets back on the ice.