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NHL selling division naming rights

By Helene Elliott
Los Angeles Times/TNS

LOS ANGELES - What's in a name? Big bucks for the heavily gate-dependent NHL, which is seeking new revenue sources to replace the ticket revenues that historically provided a significant chunk of income for its teams.

Health regulations relating to the COVID-19 pandemic will keep fans out of the stands and out of pricey luxury suites in most arenas when the season opens Jan. 13, leading the NHL to become creative in finding alternative income sources. On Tuesday, the league announced it had partnered with four major sponsors to rename the four divisions it has created for this season.

The all-Canada North division will be known - formally, if not to fans - as the Scotia NHL North Division, named after a prominent Canadian bank. The West, home to the Kings and the Ducks, will be the Honda NHL West Division. The Central division will be called the Discover Central Division, and the East will be known as the MassMutual East Division. The name changes, like the realignment, are expected to be in effect for this season only, though it's certainly possible some variation of the sponsorship agreement could return in future seasons.

The NHL previously approved the addition of sponsor stickers to players' helmets for this season.

Is this another step down the slippery slope toward teams becoming mobile billboards, as is common in European soccer and hockey leagues? Probably not. More likely it's a reflection of economic reality.

The NHL relies more on gate revenues than other leagues that have bigger TV contracts, and the absence of ticket money has contributed to bleak bottom lines and club employees losing their jobs. If taking sponsor money for naming a division means the league is more stable and that teams will be in a better position to pay scouts, training staff and front-office personnel, that's a reasonable deal.