The National Hockey League is anticipating revenue to top $5 billion this season, eclipsing the league’s pre-pandemic levels.
The NHL was on pace for roughly $5 billion in revenue during 2019-20 before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the back half of the season. The league anticipates 2021-22 revenue to top $5 billion, which would be an NHL record.
The growth is boosted largely by the league’s new U.S. television contracts—a pair of deals, with ESPN and Turner, that will pay an average of $600 million per year, roughly triple the annual value of the prior NBC contract.
Beyond that, however, the league has seen double-digit revenue growth outside of its national media, according to chief business officer Keith Wachtel. That includes the NHL’s new 10-year partnership with Sportradar (a three-fold increase over the previous data agreement), new sports betting opportunities at the league and club levels, national partnerships and new club sales, like helmet decals.
“A lot of these deals that we are doing are significant and long-term in nature, and that is not only growing the existing revenue, but it’s also providing a great base for continuing that momentum in the future,” Wachtel said in an interview from the league’s board of governors meetings in Manalapan, Fla. “And that’s really key, because we have aggressive goals to continue to drive revenue beyond that $5 billion.”
That $5 billion number is a combination of the local revenue generated by each team and the league-wide national revenue. For comparison, the NBA’s comparable figure is around $10 billion; the NFL is about $17 billion.
Attendance on a per-game basis has declined around 4-5%, Wachtel said. That shortfall is diminishing each month, he said, and “is not a major concern” for the league.
“We have the highest percent capacity of the four major professional sports,” he said. “So being off a little bit because of COVID is understandable.”
In the next few years, the league is highlighting a few specific areas for growth (its massive Canadian TV deal doesn’t expire until after the 2025-26 season). Those new areas include jersey advertising, and new technology around embedded TV advertising that could launch as early as next season. The NHL also has an NFT task force, led by executive vice president of business development David Lehanski, which is unrolling a plan for digital collectibles that should be implemented “shortly,” Wachtel said.
League governors also voted Thursday to change the NHL’s ownership rules to allow for private equity investment, mirroring similar changes made recently by the NBA, MLS and MLB. A handful of deals are already near completion, according to sources, including Arctos Sports Partners buying into the Minnesota Wild and the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.