National Hockey League hockey-related revenues are back to pre-pandemic levels and are expected to exceed $5.2 billion, commissioner Gary Bettman said during his pre-Stanley Cup Final media conference at Denver’s Ball Arena Wednesday.
“Although I got an email about it an hour ago from our CFO, who said he thinks that may be conservative,” Bettman said before the Colorado Avalanche defeated the two-time defending Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-3, in overtime to take a 1-0 lead in the best- of-seven series.
The NHL generated $5.09 billion in revenue for the 2018-19 season, the last before the spread of the coronavirus stopped all sports in their tracks on March 12, 2020, and like this season the league played a full 82-game schedule.
Bettman cited new media contracts and commitments from current and new sponsors for the NHL’s bounce back after two seasons during which they lost millions of dollars.
“What we’ve done is we’ve operated under the fundamentals of our business during the most difficult of times,” Bettman said. “All of our partners, whether it’s corporate or media, were extraordinarily pleased with the result. And it was the collaboration with the players and NHL Players Association that made that all possible.”
The NHL signed new seven-season television deals last year: Disney will pay the league $400 million annually in the U.S., while Turner Sports added $225 million per season. In comparison, the NHL concluded a 10-year contract with NBC that paid $2 billion, or $200 million a year, at the end of last season.
Bettman said at the All-Star Game this past January that despite continued health and safety problems in Canada and the postponement at the time of 105 games, he was still projecting hockey-related revenue to reach $5 billion.
The NHL pulled out of the Winter Olympics in China largely because of the spreading omicron variant, but also because it needed the three-week break to makeup games.
“In the absence of that roughly three-week period, I’m not sure how we would’ve been able to finish the season on any rational or irrational basis,” Bettman said at the time.
Bettman is expected to have his contract as commissioner extended today at the Board of Governors meeting in New York.
The NHL’s hockey-related revenues had slumped to $4.37 billion in 2019-20, the season that ended with the playoffs being played in the empty arena bubbles of Toronto and Edmonton. Last season, attendance was restricted throughout the league because of health and safety protocols and the schedule was shortened to 56 games.
Bettman said Wednesday he was happy to be back to normal, punctuated by a raucous full house in Denver for Game 1.
“We were able to stabilize the business and power through,” he said. “It didn’t mean that at times there weren’t challenges. It didn’t mean that at times we didn’t have to adjust. Some of you [reporters] said we were making it up as we went along, and we were. But we did what we had to do to get through it.”