Leagues, teams wary of rising stadium expenses amid pandemic

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Sporting Kansas City had just packed Children’s Mercy Park to the brim for a 4-0 blowout of the Houston Dynamo when the coronavirus pandemic brought not just the Major League Soccer season but the entire sporting world to a standstill.

Suddenly, what looked like such a dream start for the club — on the pitch and off — had the makings of a nightmare.

Many professional sports league, such as the NFL and European soccer leagues, have lucrative television contracts and big-money corporate sponsors that fill their substantial coffers. But the domestic soccer league in the U.S. still relies heavily on ticket sales, merchandising and concessions, much like many university athletic departments.

Without games, their very ability to make ends meet would stretch the abilities of even the savviest of accountants.

“The economic impact is significant, borderline catastrophic, and not just for us,” said Sporting KC President Jake Reid, whose club returned to full team training Monday. “If you cut off revenue streams and we still have the expenses of running buildings and paying players and staff, it’s a challenge.”

It is also but one example of the financial impact felt by the sports world from the coronavirus pandemic.

Most teams and leagues are reticent to discuss the fallout, but during a conference call with players, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said 40% of league revenue comes from ticket sales and in-arena purchases. So while the NBA has joined the NHL and MLS in crafting return-to-play plans, they are designed with safety in mind and that means centralized games away from their home stadiums.

The financial impact of that decision is no small one: The NBA makes about $1.2 million in gate revenue for each regular-season game played with fans, and there were 259 games remaining when the season was suspended.

“There’s a loss that’s going to take place industry-wise. It’s simply unavoidable,” said Marc Ganis, the co-founder of Chicago-based consulting firm SportsCorp. “If they can come back, they can reduce the loss for the players, the coaches, the people who work the ticket booths. The ushers, the security people, the parking lot attendants and concessionaires. All of these people — thousands for a football game or baseball game. These are the people that need money, who need to work.”

It takes about 3,000 workers to make U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis hum for a Vikings game. And even when they go back to work, the cost of ensuring they are safe — and keeping patrons safe, however many that may be — will grow by a significant amount.

ASM Global, the stadium’s operator, already has announced new guidelines for its approximately 325 facilities around the world. They include the way food is prepared and presented, the way crowds are filtered through gates and concourses, and even the way stadiums must be cleaned between events.

Then there are the new innovations that are helping to ensure they are safe, apps and other technology that monitor crowd density and wait lines at restrooms and concessions, high-efficiency air circulation systems and touchless payment methods.

It all costs money to implement. MLS acknowledges that most of its clubs do not turn a profit, and many baseball clubs struggle to make ends meet. Forty two of the 130 schools playing the highest level of college football had expenses exceed revenues last season, according to the Knight Commission database that tracks such spending.

The potential of games played this fall with reduced crowds or no fans at all, coupled with new expenses in making a facility go, are a big reason why four-year colleges have been forced to cut approximately 100 programs entirely.

Many organizations are trying to bridge the budget gap through enhanced sponsorship sales, such as temporary billboards that could be stretched over unsold sections of seats. Teams and leagues are selling branded face masks and other personal protective equipment. Almost all of them are trying to engage fans in new ways.

It won’t come close to making up the budget shortfall, but the hope is to survive long enough for sports to return to normal.

“I think everybody who is in it for the long-term will think long term,” said Eric Grubman, a former NFL vice president for business operations who now runs a hospitality company. “They know know that there’s going to be life on the other side, so you have to keep playing, and you’ve got to find a way to do it safely. When it comes to the revenue shortfall and expenses going up, the players and the owners really are all in this together.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

caufield surgery
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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.