NHL, teams sue insurers over COVID-19 claims

The NHL ice hockey league and 20 of its teams have filed a lawsuit against their insurance providers for allegedly breaching contracts by not reimbursing losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Canadian broadcaster TSN reports that the suit claims that the NHL and several of its teams are due more than $1bn (£739m/€884m) after the pandemic led to games being played without fans.

According to TSN, Canada’s Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks are among those suing. Five insurance companies have been named in the lawsuit, which was filed last June in the Superior Court of California.

The NHL was forced to suspend its 2019-20 season in March 2020 due to the pandemic, eventually resuming the campaign on August 1 at centralised hubs in the Canadian cities of Toronto and Edmonton. No fans attended games for the remainder of the season.

Teams were able to return to their home arenas for a shortened 2020-21 campaign, which saw Canadian teams limited to playing against each other due to cross-border travel restrictions with the US.

The 2020-21 season was significantly hit by COVID-19, with only a small number of fans permitted at regular-season games in the US before capacities increased for the playoffs. All teams had been operating at full capacity earlier this season but the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 last month led to some teams having their capacity limits cut again.

According to TSN, the League insists the terms of its agreement with Factory Mutual Insurance includes coverage for “massive losses” sustained from “when a communicable disease physically alters the air and surfaces within the clubs’ arenas, making them unfit for their intended use”.

The NHL and 20 of its teams last month objected to an attempt by their insurance providers to dismiss their lawsuit. The NHL and teams are also seeking reimbursement after spending significant amounts on modifying their arenas so they are COVID-secure.

The NHL’s claim added: “Fan attendance is a lifeblood of the plaintiffs’ revenue. A significant source of the plaintiffs’ revenue comes from arena-related activities, such as ticket sales, concessions, parking, and in-arena merchandise sales… The extra expense the NHL incurred to host the 2020 playoffs and Stanley Cup Final was enormous.”

The lawsuit comes after Major League Baseball, along with its 30 teams, in December 2020 sued its insurance providers, claiming “billions of dollars” in losses after the majority of the 2020 season was played behind closed doors.

Image: Montreal Canadiens