A big part of the hold-up between the NHL and NHLPA, and a potential delay to the Boston Bruins’ season, in terms of the return to play right now concerns the lack of ticket-paying fans in the stands.
It doesn’t appear fans would be allowed to attend NHL games at the start of any proposed regular season due to COVID-19 protocols, and that’s a major issue for the league. The lack of gate revenue is something that would be problematic around the NHL given that their TV contract isn’t quite as lucrative as those for the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball. So, the NHL is more dependent on fans physically in the stands than the other three major pro sports amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s part of the reason a handful of NHL teams have reportedly wondered whether it’s economically worth even having a 2020-21 NHL season under the circumstances.
The NHL was able to get through a two-month bubble playoff without fans because it was a short term scenario, but something without fans would be difficult, if not impossible, for the NHL to pull off over a six month plus regular season and playoffs.
Given all of that, some NHL teams are thinking outside the box and exploring options to play NHL home games at outdoor venues with options for fan attendance rather than their traditional indoor home rinks. According to Elliotte Friedman, the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks are looking into outdoor options that might perhaps allow them some percentage of fans over the course of the next six months.
Specific to the Bruins, Friedman wrote “The Bruins have been in contact with state and city officials about different options. I had heard specific mention of Fenway Park, and was told that is in an ‘exploratory phase,’ but it was stressed all venue options are being considered.”
As Friedman stated in his story, the cost element would be high to put on outdoor NHL hockey on a regular basis for these teams, and it is very much in question if switching between indoor and outdoor venues for a longer period of time is something the NHLPA would go for.
A full slate of home Bruins games at Fenway Park for a season which would basically be a Winter Classic for every single game?
You can certainly sign this humble hockey writer up for that, but any option that will allow the NHL to begin in earnest would be acceptable to everybody that simply wants the economics to be taken care of, and for hockey to be back sooner rather than later.