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What Bettman’s “Cheaper Not to Play” Comments Really Mean

Gary Bettman said the NHL will lose over a billion dollars and it would have been cheaper not to play. Why did he say that?

Not everyone is loving the comments made by Gary Bettman on Monday when it comes to the financial hit the NHL is taking thanks to the pandemic and their adjusting to making sure a 2020-21 season can happen for the fans. Talking about how much the league has lost and will lose, his remarks are getting a lot of attention.

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Bettman says “it would be cheaper for us to shut the doors and not play.” Noting that teams in the NHL are running through money at an alarming rate, he adds clubs are “going to run through more money playing than not playing, but our owners are OK with that because they know how important it is for players and fans to play.”

The idea seems to be that Bettman is trying to send the message to fans that they took priority over league revenues. That players, teams, owners and others felt the NHL should take the loss to ensure there was a game to watch. In many ways, the intent behind the message is misleading, but in other ways, there is some truth to it.

Why Is the NHL Losing Money?

Yes, the NHL will lose a ton of money. Because NHL revenues are generated, in large part thanks to ticket sales, concessions, parking, etc., on the league’s impending financial hit, he says, “The magnitude of the loss starts with a ‘B.’ We’re out of the ‘M’ range and into the ‘B.”‘ B, of course, means billions.

But, there’s a reason the NHL is moving ahead anyways. One, playing the season gets the NHL through their new television rights deal and puts them in a position to renegotiate a new, much more lucrative one. Second, under the new CBA extension, the owners will be made whole for last year (2019-20) and this season over time per 50/50 split. These owners will lose money, but not in the direct way that Bettman seems to insinuate.

As for the players, they’ll lose some money to make these owners as whole as possible, but will still be paid. Thus the biggest sacrifice here is playing more games in a shorter amount of time and a travel schedule that will take them away from their families more often.

Bettman Might Regret Saying That

Maybe it means nothing when all is said and done. Maybe the comments fall on deaf ears and disappear into the night. Maybe these fans don’t come back to these remarks and hold it against anyone. Who knows, maybe some fans appreciate the “gesture” from the owners and the league to forge ahead.

In Bettman’s defense, we would miss hockey if it wasn’t available this season.

Let’s just hope this wasn’t a message meant to suggest the fans should be “grateful” for what the owners and the NHL are doing. If this is a suggestion that we somehow owe them one and that, somewhere down the line fans will be expected to take bigger hits when all of this gets back to normal, that would be a mistake.

The owners and the NHL have made plenty of money and will do so again in the future, maybe even this season.

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