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The NHL Returns: A Look At Franchise Values And League Revenue

The NHL's preseason starts up this weekend.

The NHL drops the puck on its preseason on Saturday, September 25 and is less than three weeks from the start of the regular season. Sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?

With the Stanley Cup not handed over the Tampa Bay Lightning until July 7, the NHL has endured maybe its most condensed schedule ever with the shortest offseason in recent memory.

For the 2021-2022 season, the NHL plans on getting back to ‘normal’ by playing a regular 82-game schedule with most arenas back at full capacity.

That last part is key. Full capacity.

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With either limited capacity or no fans in the stands at all for much of last season, the NHL’s revenue took a steep nosedive. The percentage of the league’s revenue generated by ticket sales has hovered in the 35-40 per cent range for the last decade, so owners must be champing at the bit to fill their seats with hot-dog-eating, merch-buying, beer-drinking fans.

As of September 24, only two teams in the NHL are expected to operate below capacity (Montreal 33 per cent, Vancouver 50 per cent). Many of the other teams are either requiring proof of vaccination, masks or both, but there won’t be limits on the number of screaming hockey fans.

So how big a hit did the NHL take in revenue in 2019-2020, the first year of the pandemic?

If we take a look at the infographic below, provided by Statista, we see the hit was substantial.

NHL Total League Revenue – 2005-2020

You will find more infographics at Statista

This chart shows that the NHL’s revenue had been climbing steadily (except for the shortened 2012-2013 season), going from around $2.27 billion in 2005-06 to more than $5 billion in 2018-19. The pandemic caused a drop to around $4.37 billion – higher than any year before 2016, but a drop of upwards of $1 billion if we can realistically extrapolate based on previous numbers.

The numbers for the 2020-21 season, also shortened by the pandemic, have not been reported. But it’s fair to assume there was another drop in revenue considering the 2019-20 season at least played most of its regular season games at full capacity.

And when the league loses money, the individual franchises take hits of their own.

Looking at the next chart supplied by Statista, we see that average franchise value in the NHL also took a hit.

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NHL Average Franchise Value – 2000-2020

You will find more infographics at Statista

Following the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, average NHL franchise values exploded. The average franchise was worth around $282 million – up from $148 million 12 years prior.

But in 2013, that number jumped up to $413 million. That jump in value of around $130 million in one year was around the same as the jump in the previous decade.

Franchise values would eventually climb to a peak of $667 million in 2018-19, only to drop in the first pandemic year to about $653 million. Again, it’s fair to assume those numbers dipped again as the pandemic rolled into 2021, but it is interesting that franchise values didn’t drop a whole, lot considering the loss of revenue.

But those strong franchise value numbers could be a bit deceiving if we look at the teams themselves.

The NHL’s revenue and average franchise value has long been propelled by the most popular teams in the league, and we can see examples of that in the next chart.

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NHL Franchise Value By Team In 2020

You will find more infographics at Statista

The chart above shows a massive disparity in the average franchise value of the top teams in the NHL compared to the bottom teams. In 2020, five teams in the league were worth more than $1 billion, topped out by the New York Rangers at $1.65 billion, while four NHL teams were worth less than $400 million with the Arizona Coyotes down at just $285 million.

That large disparity between the most valuable and least valuable teams adds some context to why the league’s average franchise value did not appear to drop much in 2020. The top teams clearly prop up the bottom ones, who likely felt the affects of the pandemic a little harder in their wallets.

The disparity is also interesting in the grand scheme of North American professional sports. The NFL’s most valuable teams, for example, are worth approximately twice as much as the least valuable teams. But in the NHL, the Rangers are worth almost six times as much as the Coyotes.