“I believe all three teams will play,” Leonsis said Sunday during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.” “We will let the NBA and NHL try to finish some or all of the regular season and then go into the playoffs. We just won’t be doing it with fans. We’re focused on the health and safety for our fans and also our players.”
Leonsis said the leagues “need to be very, very cognizant” of helping their broadcast partners, such as Turner, Disney and ESPN, which rely heavily on sports programming, and did not offer a timetable for a potential return.
“We have a lot of time to do it,” he said. “There really isn’t the stress of when would a next season start, and so we get a chance to do our planning and create the protocols that really will maximize the safety for our players.”
NBA practice facilities continued to open last week in states where stay-at-home restrictions have eased, but Commissioner Adam Silver earlier this month told players that a decision on resuming the season, which was suspended March 11, could be more than a month away. The league has discussed using single-site locations, such as Las Vegas and Orlando, for the playoffs to reduce the need for travel. During a virtual town hall hosted by the San Jose Sharks, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week that ending the season without crowning a Stanley Cup champion is “not something I’m even contemplating.”
If and when the NBA, NHL and WNBA seasons resume this year, Leonsis said he does not expect teams to play in their home arenas.
“I believe that the remainder of this season, we will try to create a safe haven, a bubble where the players and the NHL would pick a couple of arenas in North America, maybe a couple in Canada, and just put 40 or 50 people in each organization in a hotel, and then shuttle them to the arena, test them very often and just make sure that we can play the games and get to the playoffs,” he said. “Not only do we owe the programming to the networks, but we owe it to our fans, and you’d like to be able to compete for the Stanley Cup and not have an asterisk. You’d like to be able to give the championship, and I think that’ll happen also in the NBA. It’s sad right now, but we’ll get through it.”
Leonsis noted that the defending WNBA champion Mystics were scheduled to open the season against the Los Angeles Sparks at Entertainment and Sports Arena on Saturday.
“We had to have a virtual celebration with our fans on some of the social media channels,” Leonsis said. “… We all want to say thank you to our fans, and we want to make sure we can play in a safe way.”
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