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Fitch Watches NHL Arenas as Lockout Forces Game Cancellations

Fitch Ratings may assign a negative outlook to National Hockey League arenas if the season is canceled because of the players’ lockout.

Bondholders are protected from the work-stoppage in the short term because many arenas have significant contractually obligated income and also host basketball teams, the credit rating company said in a news release. Fitch has placed one arena on Rating Watch Negative because of factors including “a heightened exposure to a single franchise with a significant share of arena generated revenues.”

“In the event that material progress has not been achieved by mid-January and if Fitch believes the likelihood of season cancellation is strong, Fitch will review the other arenas on a case-by-case basis but will likely assign a Negative Outlook to all arenas,” the news release said. It didn’t identify the arenas.

A canceled season may affect premium seating and sponsorship renewals, Fitch said, and labor uncertainty may exacerbate the effects of some teams’ poor competitive performance. Ratings can affect the price of bonds and the yield at which issuers borrow.

Losing a full season may also cause long-term damage to the NHL’s brand and fan support, especially coming after a lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season, Fitch said.

“Professional sports work stoppages risk alienating sports fans, corporate sponsorship and advertising partners in the short-term and may lead to increased revenue volatility,” the news release said. “The combination of weak and uncertain national and regional economic conditions and the various sport entertainment options could result in a dramatic reduction of fan and corporate support.”

Fitch publicly rates the Los Angeles Staples Center’s $201 million revenue backed notes BBB+ with a stable outlook and the Pepsi Center in Denver’s $46.7 million revenue backed notes BBB-with a stable outlook. Fitch also maintains private ratings on an unspecified number of arenas.

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