NHL players and coaches are being advised to stop using season tickets and re-register their accounts in an effort to protect them from the loss of their home.
The league’s general counsel, Jeff Fergus, issued a notice Thursday, calling the practice of using season ticket and concessionaire programs “unacceptable” and telling fans to cancel their tickets if they want to keep their season tickets.
The notices came as the league was facing a legal battle over whether to allow the players and their agents to use the concessionaire program, a change the NHL says would allow the league to save up to $50 million a year by eliminating the need for the teams to raise money for the programs.
The league argues that if they could use the programs to cover their expenses, it would make sense to do so.
Fergus said in a statement Thursday that the league is “actively exploring all options” to protect its fans.
The notices were not issued directly to fans, but to the teams.
“It is our intention that any and all efforts to use these programs be done with the utmost caution and without regard to the risk to our fans,” the league said in its statement.
Fletcher, who has represented the NHL on a variety of fronts, said the league does not believe it has a legal right to impose the change, even if it would not be against the rules.
“I think we can see the difference between saying that you have a right to buy season tickets, and saying that the owners of the team have a duty to provide season tickets to fans,” Fletcher said.
“I think the owners have a responsibility to ensure that the players are doing the right thing.
That’s not a question of, you know, I’m going to give them a $50,000 subsidy, I want to buy a season ticket.
It’s a question about the league’s fiduciary duty to the fans.”
Ticketing revenue in the NHL rose by 12.9 percent last year to $3.4 billion, according to the NHL Players Association.
The average ticket cost $5,977, down about 10 percent from the previous season.
The teams have struggled to attract fans, even as they continue to play in a league where teams have spent $3 billion on player salaries over the past two decades.
Last season, the Anaheim Ducks, who have been in the Western Conference for five years, averaged just 9,000 fans a game, the second-fewest in the league.
The Kings, who played in the Eastern Conference for the past six seasons, averaged 4,000, down 10 percent.
The New York Rangers have the third-fewer fans a home game at home, averaging 3,300 fans a season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs averaged 5,600 fans a year last season.
Ferguson said the changes to the season ticket programs will be effective in early 2018, which means players and teams will no longer be able to use season tickets if the teams have already sold their season-ticket allotment.
He said the change would only apply to players.
Foley, the team president, said that when the teams first purchased season tickets in 1996, they had to pay a fee to a company that handled the process of registering and renewing season tickets after they were sold.
He added that this fee is no longer needed because the league and the teams agreed to the change after the owners learned about it.
The team said that it is “confident that fans will continue to be able use the league-approved concessionaires programs as they have throughout the season.”
The NHL said it has no plans to issue a refund to fans who have cancelled their season ticket packages, but it will “continue to monitor and assess the effectiveness of the league programs and determine appropriate next steps in this matter.”
The owners of each team will have 30 days to notify the league if they decide to change their plans or continue using the season tickets program.
Fergusson said the NHL is considering a lawsuit from the players’ union, which filed a class-action lawsuit against the league in May to block the change.
Fischer said the players will also pursue a claim against the team, saying it was a mistake to cancel the season-tickets program.
The NHL, he said, is “committed to protecting the interests of our fans and players.”