After two seasons altered by COVID-19, the National Hockey League (NHL) is hoping to return to a sense of normalcy.
The league lost an estimated $3.6 billion in ticket revenue due to coronavirus-related shutdowns, and most stadiums still haven’t yet fully recovered.
Still, New Jersey Devils President Jake Reynolds is bullish about the future of the NHL and its ability to return to pre-pandemic levels. He credited the Devils ownership group, Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, for not turning to layoffs during the pandemic and trusts the moves NHL executives have made to increase revenue.
“We expect by the end of the season that we'll be right on par with where we were in ,” Reynolds said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above).
'A tremendous amount of innovation'
Despite the positive outlook, Reynolds’s franchise hasn’t been immune to the effects of COVID-19.
The Devils are one of the 29 returning NHL franchises that are averaging less attendees in 2021 than they did during the 2019-20 season. Through the first 10 games, the Devils are 1,655 fans behind the 2019-20 season average at the Prudential Center.
Reynolds believes hockey was one of the sports ‘most challenged’ by the pandemic. Restrictions severely limited the business of hockey, which relies on large indoor crowds. But after more than a year of limitations handicapping the league, the innovations caused by COVID-19 could be what helps bring the league back to positive revenue flows.
“We've talked a lot about: How do we make the street-to-seat experience for our fans as seamless as possible?” Reynolds said. “So that comes from parking to digital ticketing to being able to order food and merchandise on your phone as well as wager on some games. There's a tremendous opportunity to be able to digitize the experience and make this as seamless as possible for our fans while also continuing to make things safe for them.”
Still, with the continued threat of COVID-19 and new concern over the Omicron variant, the NHL’s season will once again be impacted by the virus this year, even if capacity limitations don’t return.
The Devils haven’t required vaccinations inside the Prudential Center. Instead, the team opted for new policies, such as a move to a completely cashless stadium to help limit the spread of the virus. Fans can use debit or credit cards, or any type of mobile payment including Apple and Google pay to purchase items in the concession stands or in the box office.
“It's an incredible time,” Reynolds said. “There's a tremendous amount of innovation, and the opportunity and upside for this business is looking very promising.”
Josh is a producer for Yahoo Finance.