Alright everyone, I’ve come to you all to proudly announce that the sport of hockey, in North America, has grown to an unprecedented level. While the National Hockey League has always been considered one of the four major sports leagues in North America, it’s always barely hung in there with extremely low amounts of popularity in its markets. However throughout the tenure of Commissioner Gary Bettman we’ve seen tremendous growth in the popularity of hockey. The NHL has increased attendance, TV ratings, revenues, and has flexed it’s recently acquired muscles by filling the largest and most historical venues in sports.
According to ESPN.com, of the thirty teams in the NHL, 14 of them are selling out their home arenas every single night. These teams are: Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks, and the Winnipeg Jets. Of those 14 teams, nine of them are in the United States, the other five are in Canada. Also according to ESPN.com, of the 16 teams in the NHL that are not selling out, nine of them have above 90% average attendance. These nine teams are: Tampa Bay Lightning (96.2%), Buffalo Sabres (96.8%), Ottawa Senators (93.7%), Washington Capitals (96.4%), Edmonton Oilers (99.9%), Nashville Predators (96.2%), Anaheim Ducks (94.1%), New Jersey Devils (92.1%), and the New York Islanders (96.3%). Going off of these numbers alone it’s evident that hockey has grown, 23 out of 30 teams are enjoying above 90% attendance.Television, along with many TV networks have given way to an increased interest in hockey, and the increase in TV ratings are reflecting as such. According to sportsnews.com every team in the NHL, except the Colorado Avalanche, are showing an increase in ratings in their local markets. Years ago hockey struggled to get nationally televised, and could hardly get a team shown out of its local market, which was not good for the growth of the sport. However, the NHL found an ally in NBC and its many networks. In 2011, NBC renewed it’s contract with the NHL, with a record deal that was worth 10 years and two billion dollars. NBC has given hockey a tremendous chance to continue growing in popularity, with things like the annual thanksgiving showdown, hockey weekend in America, Wednesday Night Rivalries, coverage of the Winter Classic and all of the Stanley Cup Playoff games. TSN has had dominant control of broadcasting the NHL in Canada, however with a recent deal that the NHL signed with Rogers Sportsnet, TSN’s main competitor has shaken things up a bit. The deal with Rogers means one big thing for the NHL’s teams, more money. The 12 year, 5.2 billion dollar deal stands to make all 30 NHL teams at least 10 million dollars each.
With increasing attendance, and increasing TV ratings, come increased revenues, and the NHL has seen plenty of that. According to bleacherreport.com, in 2011-2012 the NHL was valued at 3.28 Billion dollars, up more than a billion from its 2005-2006 value of 2.26 billion. According to a study done by Forbes the average NHL team is worth 413 million dollars, with the most valued being the Toronto Maple Leafs at over 1 Billion dollars, and the least valued being the Columbus Blue Jackets at 175 million dollars.
All of this, brings me to my final point, which is the NHL’s newfound ability to fill extremely large, often cold outdoor venues. Starting in 2008, the NHL has had an outdoor game on New Year’s Day every year since then (except 2013). Each game has broken an attendance record, or a record for most TV viewers, and then the NHL went crazy with outdoor madness. For the 2014 Winter Classic, the NHL went above and beyond, selling out the “Big House” in Michigan with over 105 thousand tickets, and managed 8.234 million viewers for the game. However the league didn’t stop there, at the end of January the NHL boasted sell out crowds at Dodger Stadium, and twice in four days at Yankee Stadium. Hockey is going outdoors twice more this season, once at Soldier Field in Chicago and once at B.C. Place in Vancouver, both in the first two games of March.
As I said, hockey has grown up, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has shown that he wants to “play with the big boys” in terms of revenue, ratings and attendance. Personally, I’m ecstatic to see hockey grow this way, and I know plenty of other hockey fans are happy to.