(Reuters) - The National Hockey League (NHL) and its teams stand to lose more than $1 billion by staging a shortened season during the COVID-19 pandemic but Commissioner Gary Bettman says it is important for players and fans that the campaign goes ahead.
The regular season, which starts on Wednesday, has been reduced to 56 games from 82 and will be followed by the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs, which are set to conclude in July.
That will allow for a return to a normal schedule for the 2021-22 campaign from October.
"Let me make something clear: We're coming back to play this season because we think it's important for the game," Bettman told reporters on Monday.
"... Because our fans and our players want us to, and it may give people -- particularly in isolation, or where there are curfews -- a sense of normalcy and something to do.
"It would be cheaper for us to shut the doors and not play. We're going to lose more money, at the club level and the league level, by playing than by not playing."
Most venues will not be able to host fans at least in the initial part of the season and Bettman said losses would no longer be counted in the millions.
"The magnitude of the loss, when you add it all up, starts with a 'b'. We're out of the 'm' range and into the 'b' range," he added.
"While there's an economic consequence to playing the season all of our owners and our clubs are in position to weather it and we have no concerns in that regard. Except that everyone is going to lose a lot of money to do this.
"We've made some financial arrangements that make sure a cash flow is what it needs to be, although that's not found money, that's debt, and our clubs, our owners, are having to write checks."
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)