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Syracuse Crunch owner Howard Dolgon: Fans doubtful at home games this season

Syracuse Crunch owner Howard Dolgon is prepping for the likelihood of no fans being allowed at however many home games the team plays at the Upstate Medical University Arena this season.

The AHL has set a tentative start date of Feb. 5, a plan that meshes with the NHL’s push to get its season going by mid-January. The possibility of AHL teams playing in front of even reduced-sized crowds will depend upon the coronavirus risks and local regulations in every market.

But Dolgon said Wednesday that even if New York state permits some attendance at indoor-sporting events this winter and spring, he’s leaning toward keeping the Crunch’s doors shut until the start of 2021-22.

“Right now, with the pandemic the way it is, with a vaccine not imminent, we think it will be in the best interest of our team and community to play without fans,” Dolgon said Wednesday. “It’s always about doing the right thing and not squeezing in fans to make a couple extra bucks.”

Dolgon’s assessment is a turnabout from his view last spring, when the AHL season was suspended in March. At that point, he said he didn’t think the Crunch would be financially able to play in an empty building. The AHL relies upon ticket sales for most of its revenue and without it teams would lose money in operating costs every time they opened their buildings for games.

Wednesday, Dolgon explained how the equation has changed a bit. The AHL will play far fewer than its normal 76 regular-season games, and teams are expected to be scheduled geographically to reduce travel health risks and eliminate overnight stays and expenses.