Thrilling on-ice action generates league-record revenue

After two and a half difficult years, the NHL is back in business.

On Wednesday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league is aiming for record revenue of more than $5.2 billion for the 2021-22 season. After years of steady growth, the league expected to hit $5 billion for the first time in the 2019-20 season, before the sports world was brought to a halt by the Covid-19 pandemic in March. 2020.

“I’m thrilled that after two and a half years things feel really normal,” Bettman said during his press conference at the Ball Arena in Denver, ahead of Game 1 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals between the Lightning. of Tampa Bay and the Colorado Avalanche. .

In-person press conferences, packed arenas and the Stanley Cup handover in June: all very good signs for a league that had to make major adjustments to stay operational as the world figured out how to navigate its way to through a pandemic.

In August 2020, the league mounted its playoffs in two fanless bubbles. The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup at nearly empty Rogers Place in Edmonton on Sept. 28, 2020 — about two weeks before the start of a normal regular season.

The next campaign was condensed to 56 games, started in January 2021, and featured a revamped divisional roster that eliminated cross-border travel between the United States and Canada. Bettman acknowledged that the league’s lost revenue reached the billion-dollar level at the start of the 2021 season in mostly fanless or low-attendance environments.

As the campaign progressed and Covid restrictions began to lift, the arenas filled up. Cross-border matchups returned during the playoffs. And the Tampa Bay Lightning repeated as Stanley Cup champions in front of a season-high 18,110 fans at Amalie Arena on July 7, 2021.

In 2021-22, the NHL returned to its 82-game regular season and regular division formats – except with the Arizona Coyotes moving to the Central Division to make room for expansion Seattle Kraken. in the Pacific, and 105 games postponed and rescheduled, largely due to Covid concerns.

The league also launched a pair of new seven-year US broadcast partnerships – a primary deal worth $2.8 billion with Walt Disney/ABC/ESPN and a secondary deal worth $1.57 billion with Warner Discovery/Turner Sports/TNT.

At more than $620 million per season, that revenue more than tripled the $200 million per season the league received under its previous deal with NBC Sports. And throughout the 2022 Conference Finals, American odds have been strong: up 18% compared to 2019 for the Eastern Conference Finals between the Lightning and New York Rangers on ESPN, and up 13% compared to 2019 for the Western Conference Finals between the Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers on TNT.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the NHL’s corporate affairs have also been booming. “Over the past 18 months, we have renewed or signed new corporate partnerships valued at three-quarters of a billion dollars,” Bettman said.

Earlier Wednesday, the league announced the renewal of its longstanding North American partnership with Pepsico, which will span 20 years by the end of this latest deal. Thursday was the announcement of a new multi-year global sponsorship with Caterpillar to launch this fall, focused on recognizing those who make, sell and operate Cat products and services as the brand becomes the official equipment sponsor. heavy and industrial NHL energy.

When the league named Hyundai and Genesis as its new Canadian automotive partners last month, Kyle McMann, the NHL’s senior vice president of North American business development, said the league now had more than 60 sponsorship deals. company in place around the world. Everyone is contributing to these record earnings, and in the not-too-distant future, the revenue shortfall that has caused uncomfortable downward pressure on players’ salary caps will be erased.

“Within two years, maybe three years from now, we expect to resume the more steady increases that people increasingly expected from the salary cap,” Bettman said Wednesday.

On Thursday, that number for the 2022-23 season was made official. As planned, the ceiling cap will be $82.5 million, an increase of $1 million from 2021-22. The lower limit, or floor cap, will be $61 million, down from $60.2 million previously.

At the heart of all positive financial news, Bettman says, is the state of the game itself. In the 2021-22 season, goalscoring reached levels not seen since the mid-90s, as the league’s young guns raised the bar for skill and speed. And the playoffs have been exciting, with five of eight first-round series reaching the seven-game limit and one of the league’s flagship franchises, the Rangers, reaching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. after four seasons essentially outside the playoff picture. (they qualified in 2020 thanks to the expanded 24-team field for the bubble, but were swept in the best-of-five qualifying rounds by the Carolina Hurricanes).

“Our league is strong, the strongest it’s ever been,” Bettman concluded. “Our clubs are strong and stable, the strongest and most stable they have ever been. Our business is thriving and our game on the ice, as I have described before, is sensational.

The Stanley Cup Final seems to continue to generate heart-pounding excitement. The home team, the Avalanche, won Game 1 against the Lightning in overtime on Wednesday, by a score of 4-3. Game 2 is Saturday at the Ball Arena in Denver (8 p.m. ET, ABC).