Jan 26, 2014; New York City, NY, USA; A general view during the first period of the Stadium Series hockey game between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

NHL Hockey: On The Rise And Growing Up


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.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY 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.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Tags: Featured Gary Bettman National Hockey League NBC Sports Popular Toronto Maple Leafs

  • ticticticboom

    Those numbers are BS. There’s no way the Devils sell 92% of their seats. Not even close.

    • BrooklynMMA

      On ESPN the 2 games @ Yankee Stadium are listed as home games for the Isles & Devils and they included them in the attendance for both teams. 50,000+ for each game dramatically bumped up the number for both teams on the ESPN attendance site. Plus we all know attendance numbers are a joke. I went to a Devils/Blue Jackets game a couple of seasons ago (I was given free tickets by the team) and there were maybe 5,000 people there at most. The announced attendance for the game was over 15,000 (I can’t remember the exact number). I also remember going to Rangers games in the late 90′s & early 2000′s when MSG was half empty (sometimes even worse) and the games were announced as sellouts.

      • D.WAdair

        I watch a lot of NYR games from MSG and I have never seen it half empty, most of the time it is sold out. Maybe you were there in a big snow storm or a very bad team. Try to go there when the Bruins or NYI or Habs, Chi, Leafs, Wings, Flyers and see how many empty seat you can find. The Devils-Kings classic would not be watched by 4+million Canadian, maybe if it was a Stanley Cup final but not a regular game with two US teams.

        • BrooklynMMA

          If you’re going to post a reply, maybe you should read the comment first. Yes, MSG is filled these days with no problem, but I was talking about back in the late 90′s and early 2000′s. I’ve been to well over a hundred games (my family has season tickets, although the prices are getting crazier every year and we’re probably going to have to get rid of them soon).. There were plenty of games in that era when the Garden was half empty or even worse. The team was just really horrible back then (not like they’re that much better these days, they still have no chance at a Cup but at least they make the playoffs…)

          I don’t really understand the Devils/Kings comment. What I wrote above was about the Leafs/Red Wings Winter Classic from this season. About (a little less than) half of the 8 million that watched it were from Canadian viewers. The Kings-Devils comment was about the Stanley cup finals that drew in horrible ratings in 2012.

      • http://www.bluelinestation.com/ PuckDani

        Sell out doesn’t mean every seat is full. It means a certain percentage of tickets were sold for the game. How often do season ticket holders/corporate owned seats end up not being used? Quite frequently.

        • BrooklynMMA

          True to the season ticket holder part. Back in the day the Rangers tickets were much cheaper and even though they sucked they were around the max limit for season tickets (over 10,000).. today because prices are so damn high they have one of the lowest numbers in the league (less than 5,000 and despite what the Rangers say, the number drops every season) but they don’t care because they actually make more money off the fans that buy single game tickets and the corporations. with the team playing decent hockey in recent years they have no problem selling out now. So I agree with that point you were making. I didn’t really think of that.

          But that doesn’t change the fact that attendance numbers are BS. Not just for the NHL but for all sports. Having a sellout (or close to it) gives off the illusion that demand for tickets is higher. Which in turn allows teams to bum up prices even more. Also giving away tickets (which most teams do, in all sports) isn’t really a loss. Those fans are actually more likely (than the average fan) to buy beer/food/beverages at the game. With the crazy prices of concessions and merchandise, it makes sense to give away the tickets for free. But calling it a sellout is BS (like calling the Isles/NYR outdoor game a sellout..)

          • http://www.bluelinestation.com/ PuckDani

            You completely lost me there when you stopped having complete thoughts as opposed to just resorting to baseless conjecture.

    • Kenny Belvin

      ESPN.com reports 91.6%. You can take that up with them.

  • BrooklynMMA

    As a huge hockey fan, I wish the sport was as popular as the big 3 but let’s be honest, it’s not and it never will be. The fact that it’s even considered in a “top 4″ or “big 4″ makes no sense because it’s probably the 7th or 8th most popular sport. These numbers look good but you can easily pick out other numbers that show the opposite. Like the ratings for the NHL on NBCSN these season have been downright AWFUL. They have actually declined from last season. The NHL has never hit 1,000,000 for a regular season game on NBCSN. NBC started it’s coverage of the Premier League this season and after only a couple of months they already had a game hit 1 million on NBCSN. The Premier League is almost always beating the NHL on NBC ratings. They also sellout in big stadiums whenever they play in America (and those are exhibition games), so I guess by those standards soccer is more popular than hockey. Actually of all the sports NBC broadcasts, the NHL is dead last in terms of ratings and viewers. The NFL, Premier League, PGA Golf, Tennis, Notre Dame games, & even HORSE RACING draw in more viewers than the NHL. Hell even the Gymnastics and Figure Skating shows draw more viewers. The NHL is dead last. Don’t even look at how embarrassing the ratings for college hockey games on NBCSN are. It’s also not that hard for teams local ratings to go up, considering how low most of them are. The playoff ratings are horrible also, unless the NHL has two of their top teams playing. Even so, the ratings for Chicago/Boston Final last season were awful, they couldn’t even crack 10 million. Look at how big the ratings for other Boston sports teams are when they play in big games. And the ratings for Devils/Kings the year before was so bad that this article was written: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jpmoore/66-shows-that-had-better-ratings-than-the-first-tw … Yes, over 8 million watched the Classic but more than half of that was from Canada. I could list a million more stats about the NHL’s terrible TV ratings but I don’t have the time really.

    Also, if you take out the outdoor games, NHL attendance has declined this season. And we know that the NHL had trouble selling out the LA and 2 NY outdoor games. Even having to severely discount tickets (and in the case of the Isles/NYR game, they were forced to give away tickets, I know because as a long time season tix holder my Dad was offered tix about a week before the game but he couldn’t go to the game so he declined).

    Obviously the sport is huge in Canada and the Canadian teams are saving the league. I actually don’t understand why the Canadian teams don’t break away from the NHL and start their own league. It would make way more sense for them on almost every level.

    You can actually make the case that the NHL had it’s peak in popularity during the 70′s through the 80′s. But then David Stern came along and turned the NBA into the monster of a league that it is today and at the same time the exciting NHL turned into the boring slow garbage of the 90′s and early 2000′s and pretty much all interest in the NHL was lost. Yeah they’ve recovered some and the hockey definitely has the most passionate fans of any sport (except maybe European soccer fans)..

    The worst part of all this? While the league has seen marginal growth in popularity, there profits have skyrocketed. You know why? They pay their athletes far less than any other sport, while jacking up prices on EVERYTHING. So in reality what you’re “raving” about in this article is the fact that the NHL has seen big revenue increases all by screwing YOU (the fans) and the players of the sport we love.. Prices for tickets & apparel (and everything else the league sells) have increased at a far greater and faster rate than anything you listed (ratings, attendance, revenue) and that is the only reason the league is better off. They shut down the league for 3 months to make sure they screwed the players, just like they screw over the fans. They robbed the players blind in the new CBA just like they rob the fans blind. They know how much we love the sport and that we really can’t change that.

    • http://www.bluelinestation.com/ PuckDani

      You should be a writer for the site…
      You use Soccer/European Football in your example but that’s not even close to fair. Name a continent, other than Antarctica, without at least 1 league. Think about the number of internationals living in this country, they don’t call the US “the melting pot” for no reason. You also left cricket and Jai-alai off your list. While it’s very well known hockey players are the lowest paid pro athletes, it doesn’t mean they should be paid more, to me it means other sports over pay, a LOT. That’s not our problem in the hockey world. What you also didn’t mention is that the Rogers deal only covers Canada. There is still next to nothing in terms of mass coverage in the US for hockey.

      • BrooklynMMA

        The assumption that only foreign born Americans are watching the Premier League is ridiculous. It is very popular among American soccer fans (mainly because the competition is way better than the MLS).. I do agree though that Soccer’s recent boom in the US is in part because of the growing immigrant base from countries where soccer is huge, but it’s not the only reason. The fact that Mexican international games draw bigger audiences in the US than US game do adds to your point but audiences for American games have grown as well.

        The soccer point I was making is that after only half a season, the Premier League is already drawing way bigger audiences for NBC than the NHL has in over 8-9 years. People say that the NHL’s ratings are low BECAUSE of NBC and NBCSN (and that they would be higher if they played on ESPN) but the Premier League ratings have GROWN since moving to NBC and NBCSN. And they’re the #1 show on NBCSN this season, after only a short time already drawing bigger numbers than the NHL. Add in the fact that soccer is played early Sunday MORNING and they’re ratings are even more impressive.

        I disagree completely on the comment about athletes pay but I don’t feel like writing a long post about that….

        I didn’t mention the Rogers deal in my original comment. But that is obviously a great deal for the NHL. But it’s no secret that the sport is huge in CANADA (the US has 10x the population of Canada, yet Canada has more hockey fans than the US).. Still that just shows how far the NHL is behind. The NFL makes over FIVE Billion EVERY SEASON from TV rights ($1.9B for MNF, $300M for TNF, $3.1B for the Sunday games) where the NHL is getting only $2 Billion TOTAL over 10 years from NBC and only $5 Billion TOTAL over 12 years from Rogers.

        And the reason there is barely any coverage of hockey is because it isn’t popular. Why would ESPN or any other sports channel even bother covering it? 1) They don’t make any money from the league and 2) it isn’t popular so they have no reason to show highlights or talking about it.

    • Kenny Belvin

      Where are you getting your numbers from? Because the notion that the NHL has NEVER surpassed 1 million viewers on a regular season game is ludicrous. Let’s skip the winter classic for a second, and the stadium series games. How about the annual thanksgiving showdown? This year’s had over a million viewers. Does the NHL often get over 1 million viewers? No, does it happen? Yes. The idea that NBC’s hockey ratings are also going down is incorrect. If you’re going to come up with an opinion at least do the research to back up what you’re saying. Totally incorrect. Is the NHL as popular as the NFL or MLB? No, of course not. But nobody here said that.

      • BrooklynMMA

        Maybe you should read my comment before you reply. The Winter Classic and Thanksgiving Showdown were on NBC, not NBCSN (which is what I was talking about). So was the only Stadium Series game that hit over 1 million (over 1 million for a game on NBC is not that impressive).. The 2 SS games on NBCSN had terrible ratings. Not to mention that Devils/Rangers SS game on the main NBC had less viewers (nationally and in NY) than a Lakers/Knicks game the same day (2 terrible teams that aren’t going to make even make the playoffs).. yet more people in NY were interested in the Knicks game than the Devils and Rangers combined (the NY TV market also covers NJ)

        Further notion that the NHL has never passed 1 million for a regular season game on NBCSN? The opening game of this season had a little over 900,000 and it was the most watched game on NBCSN in NHL history.

        Go on SonOfTheBronx and look up the NHL ratings on NBCSN. They are down this season vs. last. And they are getting beat almost every week by the Premier League (weeks that both teams have games) Even with the extra SS games the ratings are still down. I actually did research into the topic (Sports TV ratings were the subject of a paper I just finished) and I don’t just take the NHL and NBC at their word. Yeah they’re going to hype up any good news and pretend like the bad news isn’t really there, which makes sense from their perspective. But all the info is free for you to find on the internet (like I said, SonOfTheBronx post weekly NBCSN for all their programs on Fridays)

        You didn’t say hockey was as popular as the NFL or MLB (weird that you left the NBA out since it’s the clear #2 now but whatever) but you did say that the NHL was ready to play with big boys when they’re not even close. Considering they reached a peak in popularity nearly 30 years ago, I would say they’re very far from it.

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