For most people, professional hockey here in America is still considered a “niche” sport. In Canada and Europe, hockey is big time, but for whatever reason, Americans seem to tepidly embrace it. That isn't to say that there aren't passionate, hardcore fans in the US, because there are. But whereas hockey in other countries is a very big deal, in the United States, outside of the passionate fan bases, the reaction to hockey is a resounding “meh.”
The fact that it is considered niche and doesn't have huge drawing power is the reason that the NHL lags so far behind – in terms of revenue – the other major sports in the US. In terms of money, the NHL doesn't hold a candle to the NFL, Major League Baseball, and the NBA. That's why you don't see hockey players regularly signing contracts like Ndamukong Suh did with the Miami Dolphins this offseason – six years at $114 million with $60 million fully guaranteed money.
Of course, that could also be why hockey players seem more down to earth, accessible, and like better people, but we're just thinking out loud here.
All of that is not to say that the NHL can plead poverty though. A number of clubs are doing very well and are valued very highly. This past year, for the first time in the history of the sport, three clubs have been valued by Forbes in excess of $1 billion dollars. Which means that the sport is growing.
Part of the rise in the value of these organizations it the recently signed contract Rogers Communications. Media money is something the other major sports figured out how to exploit to their best advantage long ago and the NHL is only now just catching on. The deal with Rogers saw the average value of NHL clubs rise to an all time high average of $490 million – an almost 19 percent in 2014-15.
Hockey is starting to gain a foothold in popularity in the US, but it has a very, very long way to go if it wants to compete with the other majors.
So which clubs are the most highly valued? Which are the least valued? And where does your favorite team rank? Read on and find out...
30 Florida Panthers - $190 Million
It seems like a lot of people forget that there are actually two professional hockey clubs in the state of Florida. Only one of them has had success in the NHL, but if you're the Florida Panthers, and one of your most memorable moments in team history is that Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the locker room with a hockey stick, you can start to understand why you're at the bottom of the league value-wise. Of course, the Panthers are usually near the bottom of the league in wins too...
29 Columbus Blue Jackets - $200 Million
In their 13-year history in the league, the Blue Jackets have made the playoffs twice. Most recently, they were knocked out of the first round by the Pittsburgh Penguins. But that short playoff run, a spunky six game series, helped boost the club's season ticket sales for the 2014-15 season. That fact is crucial in determining the team's value since the Nationwide Arena – Columbus' home ice – does not generate revenue for the organization since it hosts almost no non-NHL events.
28 Carolina Hurricanes - $220 Million
If not for a local television deal negotiated with Fox last season, the Hurricanes would be in serious financial trouble. Or at least, more serious financial trouble than they're in now. Carolina's home ice, PNC Arena, like the Blue Jackets, hosts relatively few non-NHL events like concerts and isn't a source of revenue. The local TV deal is currently helping keep them afloat. Of course, qualifying for the playoffs – something the 'Canes haven't done in five years – might also help their financial outlook a bit.
27 Arizona Coyotes - $225 Million
The Coyotes have struggled financially ever since the team was moved from Winnipeg to the Valley of the Sun. In 2009, Jerry Moyes, who then owned the team, declared bankruptcy and the NHL was forced to assume control of the organization until new owners could be found. With a new ownership group in place, things haven't gotten any better for the Coyotes on or off the ice. And with the recent vote by the city of Glendale – where the Coyotes play – to terminate the team's lease for the Gila River Arena, with declining attendance, that was already among the lowest in the league, and a team that hasn't made the playoffs in three years, the future of the Coyotes is in absolute turmoil.
26 Tampa Bay Lightning - $230 Million
The Lightning may check in at 26th on the list currently, but after this year's playoff run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, it's probably safe to say that the team's valuation might go up a bit next season. Nothing brings in the money like winning. Tampa Bay has benefited from new naming rights revenue, provided by Amalie Oil Company, which took effect in September 2014, along with the Tampa Bay Times, who remains a key sponsor.
25 St. Louis Blues - $235 Million
The Midwest is an unlikely place for professional hockey, but the St. Louis Blues have been making it work there for quite some time. Despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the league, the Blues have made four consecutive trips to the postseason, proving that they can do more with less than most teams in the league. However, a very poor local television deal, a venue – Scottrade Center – that doesn't do much non-NHL business, along with short playoff runs have kept the Blues from being more profitable and having a higher valuation.
24 Nashville Predators - $250 Million
As unlikely a spot as St. Louis is for professional hockey, Nashville seems even more unlikely. But the Predators are thriving in the market and have put together some strong teams over the course of their 17 seasons in the league. Bridgestone Arena, the ice Nashville calls home, is owned by the team and was the 6th busiest convert venue in 2014. Bridgestone also hosted the CMT Music Awards, as well as the 47th annual CMA Awards in 2013. So they're doing some business down in Nashville. The Predators have also signed a new and highly lucrative regional television deal which will keep them profitable for some time to come.
23 Buffalo Sabres - $288 Million
Given how small the market in Buffalo is and the fact that networks aren't clamoring to give them lucrative television packages, the Sabres seem to be doing okay for themselves, checking in with the 23rd highest valuation in the league. Terry Pegula, owner of the Sabres, recently opened a mixed-use venue in downtown Buffalo that will accommodate his hockey club along with a variety of entertainment. HarborCenter also contains two NHL-sized ice rinks, a full service hotel, two story restaurant, retail space, and even a Tim Hortons. The mixed-use facility sits across the street from the Sabres' home ice, First Niagara Center – giving the complex three full sized NHL regulation rinks – making the entire complex unique, and perhaps even a bit odd, among the league. We mean, why would Pegula and the Sabres need three regulation rinks in the same space?
22 New York Islanders - $300 Million
The Islanders have given themselves some new life with a pair of new owners – Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin. Under the terms of the deal, Ledecky and Malkin will be minority owners for two years, at which point, they will assume majority control, and the current owner, Charles Wang, will become the minority owner. The deal is worth $485 million dollars. But Ledecky, Malkin, and the Isles abandoned Long Island and moved into the modern and luxuriously appointed Barclays Center in Brooklyn, giving them some much needed stability moving forward.
21 New Jersey Devils - $330 Million
Despite missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons, the Devils remain a fairly valuable franchise with a bright – and profitable – future ahead. The new owners of the club have restructured and paid down much of the franchise's existing debt. They are also putting a lot of cash into the team as they move forward. Ticket sales for non-NHL events, such as concerts, have risen, and the club has embarked on an entirely new marketing campaign that they are expecting to pay big dividends down the road.
20 Winnipeg Jets - $358 Million
The Winnipeg Jets – the hockey team formerly known as the Atlanta Thrashers – ended a seven season playoff drought and looks to be a team on the rise. Financially, the team is in relatively healthy shape, checking in as the team's 20th valued franchise. They've sold out every game at the MTS Centre since returning to Winnipeg but they do not share their arena with an NBA, or other pro team, have a low paying local TV contract, and don't generate a lot of revenue from non-NHL events, somewhat limiting their financial growth.
19 Colorado Avalanche - $360 Million
Stan Kroenke, owner of multiple pro sports teams including the NBA's Denver Nuggets, MLS' Colorado Rapids, the NFL's St. Louis Rams, as well as the internationally famous soccer club, Arsenal. Suffice it to say, Stan Kroenke has a whole bunch of money. And given the fact that in 2000, Kroenke bought the Avs for just over $200 million, he's turned them into a very healthy, very viable organization.
18 Anaheim Ducks - $365 Million
Though many once believed the professional hockey in Southern California could never be viable for the long term, the LA Kings and the Anaheim Ducks are proving them wrong. Starting play in 1993, the Ducks already have one Stanley Cup in their possession (2007) and have built a perennial contender. Their success, as well as the fact that Honda Center is a prime venue for non-NHL activities, make the Ducks a very financially healthy franchise.
17 Minnesota Wild - $370 Million
The Xcel Energy Center, which is home of the Minnesota Wild, as well as the National Lacrosse League's Minnesota Swarm, has undergone a major facelift over the past couple of seasons. With major upgrades to the arena, aimed at improving the fan experience, as well as the forgiveness of debt signed into a jobs bill by Minnesota governor, Mark Dayton, the Wild are a very financially stable franchise. On the ice, they've put together a strong product and continue to be contenders, which only helps their bottom line.
16 Ottawa Senators - $400 Million
On the ice, the Senators are a confounding franchise. They've had some incredibly strong rosters, but have not been able to put it all together to make a serious push for a Cup. That fact, however, has not changed the fact that they are one of the more valuable franchises in the league. That is thanks, in large part, to separate television packages with both the English and French Canadian cable networks. The deal runs through 2025-26, meaning the Sens will be financially viable for some time to come.
15 Dallas Stars - $420 Million
A playoff appearance in 2013-2014 ended a skid of five straight seasons without a trip to the playoffs. Sadly, that one season in a row playoff streak was ended this past season when Dallas was eliminated. That playoff futility has led to Dallas having the third worst attendance in the league, despite having the third lowest ticket prices. What is keeping the Stars in the black though, is a sweet local TV deal that is paying them about 30% more annually than the team's previous deal.
14 San Jose Sharks - $425 Million
When you think of playoff futility, you think of the San Jose Sharks. Despite having rosters loaded with talent for years, the Sharks have never been able to get over that hump and claim a Cup of their own. San Jose though, did manage a streak of five seasons in which they sold out every home game. That streak unfortunately ended in October last season, in a game against the Sabres. There is no question that the people in Silicon Valley love their team. One thing keeping them from being valued higher is a really poor TV deal – a deal so bad in fact, that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has tried to step in to get it revoked and/or reworked to make it more lucrative for all involved.
13 Calgary Flames - $451 Million
Though they've managed to turn a profit over the last few years, the Flames still aren't close to being as profitable as some of their Canadian counterparts. Despite the fact that they have haven't had much postseason success – one playoff berth in the last six seasons – and that they play in one of the league's most outdated stadiums – the Scotiabank Saddledome – the Flames are still a financially sound organization. Though upgrading their facilities, as well as their roster, will undoubtedly help them climb that ladder.
12 Edmonton Oilers - $475 Million
The Oilers have a legacy of success. Some of the best players in the history of the league have worn the orange and blue of the Edmonton Oilers, and they have five Cups to prove it. Unfortunately for the franchise, times have been leaner in recent years, and the teams haven't been nearly as good. However, the organization has used its legacy to leverage a new arena out of the city – the $480 million Rogers Arena, which is expected to be open for the 2016-17 season. The negotiated deal will keep the Oilers in Edmonton for 35 years and allow the team to run the city-owned arena, as well as covering the expenses of doing so – but they will also get to keep all of the profits, making it a major source of revenue.
11 Washington Capitals - $500 Million
They have one of the league's most exciting players in Alexander Ovechkin, but they haven't been able to parlay a strong, talented roster into playoff success. Despite that, Caps owner Ted Leonsis has taken a franchise he purchased in 1999 for $85 million and increased its worth to half a billion dollars. That is thanks in part to local television deals with Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic. With the current deal expiring following the 2016-17 season, both sides are working on a renewal of the deal – one that will likely make the Caps even more valuable.
10 Pittsburgh Penguins - $565 Million
If there is one thing you can say about Pittsburgh fans, it's that they're extremely loyal to their teams. Despite being the lone tenant in their arena, in a small market to boot, the Penguins continue to turn a profit. They sell out game after game after game and lead US-based NHL teams in local TV ratings. So successful are the Pens, that they are working on purchasing a large parcel of land for a new arena that will be surrounded by office space and retail stores.
9 Detroit Red Wings - $570 Million
Given their storied history, the fact that they're one of the league's most iconic organizations, and their status as perennial contenders, it would be a shock if the Wings weren't one of the most valuable franchises in the NHL. And so, they are. The Joe Louis arena – the oldest in the NHL – is being knocked down in favor of a new mixed use development in downtown Detroit, increasing the profitability and value of the organization as a whole.
8 Los Angeles Kings - $580 Million
There was a time, not too long ago, when you probably could have purchased the Kings for a ham sandwich and a diet coke. But when the team acquired talent like Luc Robitaille, Jari Kurri, Tomas Sandstrom, and a guy named Gretzky, LA's fortunes began to change – though they didn't quite come to fruition until recently. Now, with a couple of Cups over the last five years, the Kings are one of the league's more dominant and valuable franchises. And with their blueprint for success firmly in place, their value will likely continue trending upward.
7 Philadelphia Flyers - $625 Million
Despite the fact that the team posted operating losses of nearly half a billion dollars in 2012 and 2013, the team continues to be one of the league's most valuable. That is due in part, to the fact that the on ice product they put out continues to be so good. They were fourth in the league in average attendance and their pricing for seats – both the premium as well as non-premium – are well above the league averages. And despite that, they continue to sell out their arena.
6 Boston Bruins - $750 Million
Boston has been going through a sports renaissance of sorts with the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Cel-- well, with the Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins, all having a tremendous amount of success. Their profitability is in large part because they are one of the best run franchises in the league and continually roll out competitive teams. But they also have one of the highest local television ratings and the second highest TV audience in their local market. Major upgrades to the TD Garden, the Bruins' home ice, aimed at bettering the fan experience, will only help make them more profitable.
5 Vancouver Canucks - $800 Million
There has been no other team – other than the Sharks – who have experienced the sort of playoff futility that the Canucks have. They've been a high seed, a low seed, a President's Trophy winner, and none of it matters. When the games are the biggest, the Canucks play their smallest. And despite that fact, they're still the 5th most valuable franchise in the NHL. That is in large part, thanks to the new deal they've signed with Rogers Communication that gives the cable network the television, internet, and mobile internet rights over Canucks programming. The lucrative deal runs through the 2022-23 season.
4 Chicago Blackhawks - $825 Million
The Blackhawks have won three Cups over the last six seasons. That sort of winning is going to increase the revenue flowing into an organization exponentially. After all, nothing is more profitable than winning. The Blackhawks lead the league in attendance and carries the largest local television audience of any US based team – which translates to more money for team owner Rocky Wirtz, who has a stake in the regional sports network.
3 Montreal Canadiens - $1 Billion
With 24 championships in the club's history, the Canadiens are easily one of the league's most iconic franchises. Hence, they're also one of the most valuable. Despite having the second highest ticket prices in the league, Montreal has sold out every seat at every game since 2004 – a seat in the “Platinum” section will run you a mere $439 bucks. They've also launched a number of programs aimed at driving revenue, while making fans feel like they're part of the Habs family. It's clever – and highly lucrative – marketing. Which helps explain why they're one of the first three teams in league history to be valued at a billion dollars.
2 New York Rangers - $1.1 Billion
Of course, the Blueshirts are one of the league's most valuable franchises. Playing in one of the biggest markets in the world, and having had a measure of success, the Rangers continue to build – and increase the value – of their brand. In the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals, though defeated by the LA Kings in five games, the Rangers netted more than $20 million dollars for their two home games by virtue of concessions, tickets, and sponsorships. With ticket prices that are well above the league average, a lucrative local television deal, and their brand recognition, the Rangers will likely continue to add to their value.
1 Toronto Maple Leafs - $1.3 Billion
This one is a little tough to figure out. The Leafs haven't been a good team or a good organization for quite some time. It's been years since they've been a viable contender for a Cup, and despite that fact, they've been the league's most valuable franchise for nube straight years. It's partially explained by the fact that they are the sole pro hockey team in Canada's biggest market – and we know how Canadians love their hockey. Despite having, at times, a downright abysmal team, the Leafs have sold out every home game for more than a decade – and do so despite having the highest ticket prices in the league! They share a stadium with the Raptors of the NBA, which cuts down on some expenses, but also cuts down on some revenue as it limits the amount of non-sports activity – like concerts – that can be hosted at the arena. Whatever the case, kudos to Toronto for being worth more than a billion in a “niche” sport.