Rarely do you find commissioners of professional sports leagues looking for reasons to shorten the length of seasons for any reasons. Far too often, owners are looking for ways to extend seasons in order to maximize profits and squeeze every last penny out of the pockets of advertisers and fans in trying to make a buck in their business models. David Andrews, the President and CEO of the American Hockey League, announced today a very radical change from the Board of Governors of the AHL that should not only shock and astound the leaders of other professional sports leagues, but perhaps inspire other sports leagues to follow in his unique view in managing how to manage the risks seen in running a professional sports league.
David Andrews is no stranger to making controversial decisions regarding how his league will operate. The AHL was the first professional hockey league to mandate that all players will wear visors regardless of the number of games in which the professional player has participated. This obviously caused a stir amongst the Professional Hockey Players' Association, but it has resulted in safer hockey for all players within the AHL.
Today's announcement was somewhat less controversial from a player's point of view, but it certainly raised some eyebrows when Mr. Andrews announced that he had the Board of Governors' support. The reason for this was that the AHL has decided to shorten the regular season and the first round of the playoffs!
Digest that for a moment: a professional sports league is SHORTENING the regular season and the OPENING ROUND of the playoffs. Got it? Good. Let's continue.
The AHL has decided to cut the regular season to 76 games instead of their normal 80 games, and they have reduced the opening round of the playoffs from best-of-seven series to a best-of-five series. Because of this, teams will play two less games at home and two less games on the road during the regular season, and will sacrifice one game at home and one game on the road in the playoffs. Those games, for some of the more successful teams, could mean major dollars not walking in through the turnstiles. So how did the AHL determine that this would be the best course of action?
“As our league has grown in recent years, we have been working closely with the National Hockey League and the Professional Hockey Players’ Association to seek a solution to what has become a very onerous playing schedule,” said David Andrews. “As our league has grown and our game has become faster and more physical, the wear and tear on our players has begun to affect player development and at times the quality of competition. These steps are intended to provide a safer environment for our players through increased rest and recovery time, and also to provide our fans with an even higher caliber of play as a result of reduced player fatigue.”The extension of one additional week to the season also kills off the AHL's need to have teams playing a sequence of games in consecutive nights. There will be less four-games-in-five-nights and less three-games-on-three-nights next season thanks to a reduced schedule and an extra week of time. These will undoubtedly get players' approval, but it was harder to believe that the owners would agree to reduce the number of days they can make money. It sounds as though Mr. Andrews has already discussed this with the owners, making it clear that this is the correct course of action.
In the short term, this initiative will require some adjustments to our clubs’ business plans due to the elimination of two home games, but in the long term, it is clearly the right thing to do for our players and our fans.And there you have it. Quoth Mr. Andrews, "Never more".
Personally, I'm quite excited for a shorter season. It heightens the drama for each and every regular season, making streaks that much more important to the success of a team in the regular season. The AHL season will still be long enough to recover from a streak of poor play in December, but the games mean more in a shorter season and in a shorter playoff series.
That's good for the game, and it's awesome for the fans. Well done on this decision, Mr. Andrews. I commend you for being pro-active in this solution for all of the players, owners, and fans of the AHL.
You can read Mr. Andrews' letter here if you want to see the official statement.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!