By Michael Bennett

The National Hockey League is a two-bit operation.

The entire league gets $200 million from NBC for its TV rights.

The NBA gets $2.6 billion from Turner and Disney, more than 10 times as much.

So playing without fans has wreaked more havoc with the NHL’s bottom line than other sports.

The Flyers, for instance, really count on packed crowds at the Wells to turn a profit.

So the league has gone to extremes to makes extra cash.

Which might explain why it has sold naming rights to its four divisions for the first time in its history.

Teams will play in the Scotia NHL North Division, Honda NHL West Division, Discover NHL Central Division and the MassMutual NHL East Division during the 2020-21 season, which runs 56 games and begins on Jan. 13.

An NHL source told ESPN that selling the naming rights to its divisions is viewed internally as a one-year-only campaign.

These divisions are new for this season, as the NHL realigned its teams because of COVID-19 travel concerns and restrictions, particularly at the U.S.-Canadian border. All of the league’s Canadian teams are grouped into the North Division for this season. It’s expected the NHL will return to traditional divisional setups in the 2021-22 season.

This is the second major sponsorship move for the NHL this season. The league previously announced that, for the first time, it would allow advertisements on player helmets. As of Tuesday, 13 teams have announced their helmet sponsors. The majority of those sponsors also hold the teams’ arena naming rights.

The NHL has faced massive revenue shortfalls in the past year because of COVID-19. As a league reliant on ticket sales as its major revenue driver, the NHL played its entire 2020 postseason without fans and will open this regular season to either empty buildings or in arenas with very limited capacity.

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