How Much Money Does The NHL Make? NHL Annual Revenue Explained

Posted on May 17, 2024 by Dan Kent
How Much Money Does the NHL Make

The National Hockey League (NHL) represents one of North America's premier professional sports leagues, widely recognized for its parity in a post-salary cap environment. This parity has led to the league flourishing, as more fans are committed to supporting their team.

Over the years, the NHL has evolved into a significant business with considerable earnings potential. As an Edmonton Oilers fan, I've even witnessed my favourite franchise nearly increase in value tenfold over the last few decades.

The league's yearly revenue reflects the commercial success and popularity of the sport, encompassing various streams such as television rights, merchandise sales, sponsorships, and ticket sales, especially in heated rivalry games.

What is the yearly revenue of the NHL?

Unfortunately, data is a bit lagging when it comes to NHL revenues. However, we do have numbers from a few years ago, and we can assume that they'll continue to escalate higher as the league only grows in popularity.

In the 2021/22 NHL season, league revenue reached $5.93B USD. This figure evidences the league's recovery and growth trajectory following the pandemic. 

Revenue in the NHL is also intricately tied to the collective bargaining agreement between the team owners and players, which traditionally stipulates a 50/50 split of specific income sources. The more the league makes, the higher the salary cap and the more players get paid.

While the NHL's revenue streams are diverse, a significant portion of its earnings comes from broadcasting deals, which isn't all that surprising with the increasing demand for live sports content.

The NHL’s main revenue streams

The National Hockey League (NHL) generates substantial revenue each year through a combination of television contracts, gate receipts from ticket sales, merchandising, sponsorships, and advertising deals that contribute to its multi-billion dollar income. Let's go over each of them.

Television and streaming revenue

Television and streaming agreements are significant sources of revenue for the NHL and are growing the fastest. Media networks pay for the rights to broadcast games, generating a sizeable portion of the league's overall income. 

In recent years, these deals have expanded to include online streaming options, further increasing the reach and revenue potential of the NHL.

Traditionally, the NHL has been one of the weaker markets in broadcasting deals, primarily due to the NBA, MLB, and NFL being more popular in the United States, where the big-money deals are.

However, it is growing rapidly in this regard, and TV deals are increasing to the point where the league is less reliant on gate sales.

Gate receipts and ticket sales

Gate receipts and ticket sales form the backbone of the NHL. Out of all professional sports leagues, they are one of the more reliant on gate and ticket sales. 

They substantially contribute to league income, with fans attending games and purchasing tickets throughout the season, including regular and playoff games. 

As of the most recent data, 36% of the NHL's revenue depends on gate revenue. We can see the drastic difference if we look at the NFL, which is only 15%.

Merchandising and licensing

The NHL also benefits from merchandising and royalties from licensing. Sales of team jerseys, memorabilia, and other NHL-branded products are sources of revenue, while licensing agreements allow third-party vendors to create and sell team and league-branded merchandise. 

These sales substantially bolster the NHL's income through physical and online stores.

If you've ever purchased a product with an NHL team's logo, you probably realize how expensive it is. For the most part, you're paying for the logo and not the actual quality of the attire.

Sponsorships and advertising

Sponsorship deals and advertising are crucial for generating revenue beyond game-related streams and gate sales. 

The NHL partners with major corporations for brand visibility in arenas and during broadcasts, including on-ice advertisements and in-game promotions. 

The league also leverages digital advertising across its platforms. In addition, emerging sponsorship opportunities are appearing within sports gambling, with the NHL integrating gambling partnerships into its revenue strategies.

The sports gambling partnerships kind of drive me crazy, as they're often the only commercials ever played. However, there is no doubt that it brings significant sponsorship revenue to the league.

Comparison with other sports leagues

The National Hockey League (NHL) has experienced significant growth over the years, but its average revenue remains lower compared to the behemoths of the sports business.

The league trails behind the National Football League (NFL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA). In comparison, the NFL reigns supreme in terms of profitability, with deca-billion revenue figures, owing to lucrative broadcasting deals and higher average attendance. We have to remember that a football stadium is more than triple the size of an NHL stadium, on average.

LeagueAverage Revenue
NFL$18 billion
NBA$10 billion
NHL$5.93 billion
MLB$10 billion

Meanwhile, with a global fanbase and substantial merchandising, the NBA surpasses the NHL in revenue generation, but it's not as drastic.

Please make no mistake about it, however, the NHL is one of the fastest growing sports in North America and is slowly catching up to the other leagues.

Team revenue and rankings

Within the NHL, team revenues and franchise values showcase a wide spectrum, influenced by market size, performance, and brand loyalty. 

The Toronto Maple Leafs, a top-rated Canadian NHL team, have set the high benchmark, worth $2.8 billion. This is not only due to the team's revenue generation potential but also because it has one of the most iconic brands in sports. Other notable brands include Original 6 teams like the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, and Montreal Canadiens.

An NHL team's average value has risen to $1.33 billion, marking a 29% increase over the previous year. In stark contrast to the NHL's frontrunners, other franchises in smaller markets struggle to keep pace.

The league average for franchise value is significantly lower when compared to the NFL's and NBA's giants. 

An NFL franchise's worth can easily overtake the billion-dollar mark, with some teams valued at over $5 billion. NBA teams have also seen a surge in valuations, buoyed by a widespread audience and higher profitability per franchise.

Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)NHL$2.8 billion
Dallas Cowboys (NFL)NFL$5 billion
New York Knicks (NBA)NBA$4 billion

Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on the NHL's revenue streams. 

During this period, the league faced challenges like shortened seasons and limitations on audience capacity. The introduction of spectator-less games notably reduced ticket sales, a traditionally crucial source of income for the league. 

Health restrictions led to a shift towards digital viewership, affecting traditional revenue models.

This is exactly why you haven't witnessed the salary cap move in a few years. This is because the owners gave the players some relief while revenue was significantly lower during the pandemic so that the player's wages could be maintained. They're now paying that back.

How expansion teams have impacted revenue

The NHL's expansion into new markets with teams like the Seattle Kraken and the Vegas Golden Knights brought fresh revenue sources to the league through expansion fees. 

These fees are one-time payments made by the new franchise to the league and its existing members. The Vegas Golden Knights' entry fee was $500 million, while the Seattle Kraken contributed a reported $650 million, reflecting the lucrative financial potential of NHL expansion.

In addition to the expansion fees, these two teams are large revenue drivers for the league overall, being in hockey hotbeds.

Projected revenue growth for the NHL and possible obstacles

The NHL's total revenue reflects a healthy financial position, with the 2021/22 season reporting earnings of nearly $5.93 billion. 

Major contributions to this bottom line come from lucrative broadcast agreements with networks like ESPN and Turner, enhancing the visibility and popularity of hockey in America. Moreover, prominent hockey-related revenue streams include gate receipts, merchandising, and partnerships, especially now that we're in a post-pandemic world and the arenas are full again.

Despite promising growth, the league faces challenges such as fluctuating player expenses, impacted by the collective bargaining agreement, which dictates a 50/50 split of related revenues with the players. This agreement ensures that players receive a fair share of the financial rewards but also requires the league to keep a close watch on its spending.

In addition to this, player demands in the future that don't align with league interests could easily result in another lockout.

Investment in future growth

For sustained growth, the NHL invests in areas that promise to expand its revenue generation. These investments focus on long-term strategies such as enhancing fan engagement through digital platforms, expanding its reach within the United States and international markets, and fostering grassroots programs to cultivate new talent.

The league also continually assesses the potential for expanding the number of teams, which increases revenue streams through expansion fees, merchandise sales, and broader viewer interest. The NHL's strategic approach positions it to not only face imminent financial challenges but also to harness opportunities that promote enduring profitability and success.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada,

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