Forbes has their list of NHL team valuations out again, and we can check on how the Leafs are doing from a money point of view in a moment, but the big news in this story is the expectation that the NBC television deal could double in value in 2020-2021. The deal is to be renewed, and while ratings were down overall last year, the playoffs showed a big increase. It would be a real shame to lose that year or the next to a lockout just when an extra $200 Million in revenue is coming on board to help raise the salary cap. The pressure keeps growing on the NHL to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Local television deals are rising in value in the US as well:
The Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals began a new deal with NBC last year for 15 years that is worth twice its previous deal. The annual rights fee to the team doubled to more than $35 million a season, and on top of that, the Capitals have an ownership stake in the regional sports network. Even the lowly Buffalo Sabres kicked in a new 12-year deal with MSG Network last season that doubled its rights fee to an annual average of more than $25 million.
All of that helped those teams rise in value, but it will help the Leafs sign their expensive players in the future too. The Leafs are definitely doing their part in raising the league’s revenues.
Last year the overall picture was very rosy in Toronto:
[Forbes] rates the Leafs as worth $1.4 Billion (all figures are in US dollars), right behind the New York Rangers at $1.5 B. They’ve vaulted over the Montréal Canadiens who sit at $1.25 B.
Also shown is the ratio of debt to the asset value of the franchise. Several teams are at zero, with the Leafs at a modest 8%, and then the debt loads rise to the stunning high of 83% for the Arizona Coyotes.
Not much has changed this year beyond the gradual inflation of value of all of the teams. Note: this valuation covers the most recent NHL season and off-season.
The Rangers are still on top with a value of $1.55 Billion. The Leafs are up to $1.45 B, and the Canadiens are at 1.3 B. The lowest value team is the Arizona Coyotes at $290 Million.
Seattle just agreed to pay the NHL $650 Million for an expansion franchise. According to Forbes only 11 teams are valued at or above that amount right now, with Vegas in 12th place at $575 M. The growth in the Vegas value over last year, after they paid $550 M for the franchise, is the success story of the NHL as revealed in these numbers.
For the teams at the very top, not growing in value would be a sign of deep incompetence. For Vegas to have grown by 15 per cent, second only to the Washington Capitals, is a sign of amazing achievement in management.
Other teams on the rise are Carolina, who accomplished that by being sold for a bit more than Forbes had them valued at last year, and Tampa Bay, who are doing it by being good at hockey and business.
The Ottawa Senators, by the way, are ranked 23rd in value at $435 M, and that would make them more expensive to buy than the Hurricanes were, and a great deal more than the Florida Panthers or Coyotes, both under $300 M.
To get that very large expansion fee, the NHL has to work to make it hard to buy a team, and easier to succeed as an expansion franchise. When you compare Vegas to Columbus, 29th in value at $320 M after all these years, you have to think the Vegas expansion was finally getting it right from a business perspective.
A more interesting figure than the overall asset value, however, is Operating Income. This is not just the money coming in to each team; rather, it is the revenue minus some expenses, but not interest, taxes or depreciation. The idea here is to see how well the team does as a business in a single year.
By this measure the Leafs are third behind the Rangers and the Canadiens and are listed at $94 M. Vegas is fifth, however, at $53 M, and if that keeps up, they will join the Los Angeles Kings in challenging the original six teams for value very soon. Vegas and LA prove you don’t need winter for hockey success.
You don’t need heat to fail either. At the bottom of the pack is the Panthers at a loss of $21 M, but the Islanders are next with a loss of $13 M. Columbus operated at a loss of $1.7 M, and the Senators just barely squeaked out a positive number of $1.6 M. Remember, there’s other expenses to be paid here: interest being the big one. So some teams are deep in the red when you consider all of their expenses.
How much debt a team has in relation to its value is also a good way to judge its health as a business. There are quite a few that show zero. The Leafs have a modest eight per cent, the Canadiens are high for a wealthy team at 17 per cent, but the troubled teams are in deep. The Coyotes are at 103 per cent, and yes that means that Forbes is saying they owe more than they’re worth. The Islanders are at 45 per cent (this includes arena debt, so the Islanders are in a period of long transition there). The Senators are only at 27 per cent, so perhaps rumours of their impending collapse are a bit premature. They’re still in a mess, however, just not as big a one as Florida or Arizona are.
With no improvement in either the Coyotes or the Panthers in value, their continuing operating losses and huge debt loads, these two teams sure seem to be lagging a bit too far behind at a time when overall league is estimated here to be up by 39 per cent. If Forbes’ numbers for the Coyotes are accurate, it seems impossible to imagine the team would sell for anything like what the Hurricanes went for. And while the current owner has said he wants to sell a portion of the team, the line to sign up to buy some debt doesn’t seem very long.
If Vegas has proved one thing, it’s that the desert location is not to blame for Arizona’s woes. Tampa, a very healthy franchise on the verge of passing the Calgary Flames in value, shows that Florida can’t blame the state it plays in for the state of its business either.
It’s easier to make a lot of money in Toronto or New York. But it’s not impossible to do it in Vegas or Tampa. And we should all hope for Seattle to succeed, because with success comes revenue, and with revenue comes a higher salary cap for the rich teams to play with.