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nhl lockout

View from upper level seating during the Toronto Maple Leafs season opener against traditional rivals, the Montreal Canadiens at the Air Canada Centre Oct 7 2010.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The NHL may potentially be able to play 48 games of an 82-game schedule this season, but that doesn't necessarily mean its revenues will be chopped by that amount.

The reason: The playoffs would remain the same length, and those 100-plus postseason gates are the league's biggest of the year.

While it's safe to assume regular-season revenues will be down to 55 per cent of normal levels – should the league and its players agree to get back on the ice – by the postseason, fans and new sponsors are much more likely to be back on board with the league.

"Will sponsors jump in immediately? I do not think so," S&E Sponsorship Group president Brian Cooper said. "Most of my clients, I would predict, would say, 'The majority of the season is gone, I'm not doing any market activation other than maybe the playoffs and the Stanley Cup.'"

The last time the NHL missed a full season (2004-05), it returned the following year with revenues that were essentially flat. Should that hold true this time, the league will likely generate somewhere in the realm of 70 per cent to 75 per cent of last year's $3.3-billion (U.S.) during a shortened season.

"Unless you've had a fan revolt, unless you've had a large percentage of season-ticket holders cancel their tickets, you've got a base to get revenue from," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "Sponsors are typically on long-term deals and still with you. Television and media-rights holders are all waiting for that content to come back.

"It's a formula that gives them some level of certainty … and a huge drop would be shocking."

That level of success would mean the 2012-13 lockout would potentially cost a total of between $800-million and $1-billion, with the owners and players splitting the pain due to taking a 50-per-cent share of revenues.