Yesterday Forbes released their annual list of the NHL team values, and there’s good news and bad news.
First the good news: the average value of an NHL team rose 46% in the last year, and it wasn’t just the big fish pulling everybody up. Even the little guys increased in value.
Now the bad news: the NHL is still light yearsbehind the NFL, MLB, and NBA.
Of course, there are many ways to put this fact into perspective. We could talk about the average value of franchises in all the leagues—how, on average, NFL teams are worth $1.17 billion, MLB teams $744 million, NBA teams $509 million, and NHL teams $413 million—but that doesn’t really do the disparity justice. So instead we’re going to put it this way: if you were a billionaire looking to get into sports ownership, you could either buy the ten least valuable NHL teams, or you could buy the Dallas Cowboys.
That’s right. The ten least valuable NHL teams combined are worth $2.117 billion. Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys—the NFL’s most valuable team—are worth $2.3 billion.
Among these bottom 10 are three franchises that have won a Stanley Cup in the last ten years (!), the two best teams in the NHL right now, the team with the most valuable player in the game, and a franchise that gave us one of the greatest dynasties in the history of pro sports. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have zero Super Bowls in the last 18 years…and Tony Romo.
So who are these ten teams you could have for one Dallas Cowboys? Let’s have a look…
Estimated Value: $300 Million
Considering the Ducks (who currently occupy first place in the Western Conference) aren't exactly in what they call a "traditional hockey market" out there in Anaheim, I'd say $300 million is actually pretty good. Sure, it's well less than half what the least valuable NFL team is worth, but it's a good chunk of change.
Unfortunately, this valuation has everything to do with the size of the media market and nothing to do with the team's ability to actually turn a profit. Last year the Ducks brought in $73 million and spent $76.9 million for an operating lost of $3.9 million.
Meanwhile, up in minuscule Winnipeg—meto population 700,000— the Jets are worth $40 million more and actually made $6.3 million. Because selling out every single game at $90 a pop it good for business.
10. Anaheim Ducks
Estimated Value: $250 Million
Despite going from mediocre in 2011-12 to bad in 2012-13 to f**king pathetic in 2013-14, the Sabres' estimated worth actually increased by $75 million this year. And the really crazy thing is, this team actually could be raking in the money if their (well-meaning billionaire) owner, Terry Pegula, hadn't blown so much of it on big contracts for crappy players.
The Sabres have a dedicated fanbase in Western New York and Southern Ontario (they play "O Canada" before every game, whether a Canadian team is playing or not) and their average TV rating of 6.6 was the second-highest local number in the league. So the passion is there. They're just poorly run and prevented from getting a piece of the Southern Ontario media market by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
9. Buffalo Sabres
Estimated Value: $240 Million
Oh, the poor Florida Panthers. Is any team more poorly located? Last year they claim they filled their arena to 99.7% capacity, but that just seems impossible. They must be counting the tickets they give away for free that people don't use.
Of course, in addition to the fact that this team plays in Sunrise, Florida, a whopping 40-minute drive from downtown Miami, these guys also rarely win. They've made just four playoff appearances in 19 seasons, only two came in back-to-back seasons, and those were in the mid 90s.
Honestly, it's hard to see how this team is even worth this much.
8. Florida Panthers
Estimated Value: $205 Million
The Nashville Predators are a brilliantly run organization. Despite the fact that they are in a media market that barely knows hockey exists, these guys made seven trips to the postseason in eight seasons.
Unfortunately, there's only so much you can do when your revenue is only $71 million and bigger teams are either snatching up your free agents (Ryan Suter) or forcing you to pay them ridiculous salaries (Shea Weber). It's actually kind of a miracle that they only lost $800,000 last year.
Wouldn't you love to see what this ownership group and coach Barry Trotz could do in, say, Montreal?
7. Nashville Predators
Estimated Value: $200 Million
Pretty much the only reason the Desert Dogs are worth this much is because the city of Glendale is basically paying them to play in their Jobing.com Arena. Seriously, the city is covering $50 million in operating losses. And there are always going to be operating losses as long as the team is playing in Glendale.
If this team moved to Hamilton (which is 45 minutes from Toronto) they'd be worth $500-600 million within three years, and everyone in the league would benefit. But no. They are in still in Arizona.
6. Phoenix Coyotes
Estimated Value: $195 Million
On the one handing, moving the Islanders to Brooklyn for the 2015-16 should raise the team's profile and add some value. On the other hand, the Barclay's Center will actually have a thousand fewer seats than the Nassau Coliseum, meaning the Isles will still be playing in the second-smallest arena in the league. And they're still going to have the same ownership and management group, which has led to the formerly great franchise to one playoff appearance in the past six seasons.
5. New York Islanders
Estimated Value: $187 Million
The Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006, but you've got to be more competitive than they have been to keep fans in basketball and NASCAR country coming through the turnstiles. So far this season, the Canes are drawing just 15K fans per game, which is 80% capacity. That's a lot of money they aren't making in ticket sales, and it's probably why they lost $3.4 million last year.
4. Carolina Hurricanes
Estimated Value: $185 Million
The St. Louis Blues have been the best team in the league this season, and have been on a pretty great roll for the past three. Their ownership and management is shrewd, and their fanbase is strong. So what's the deal?
Well, while the fanbase is strong, it's not huge. Baseball is king in St. Louis and the surrounding region, and the Blues have a tough time living up to the Cardinals' success. That's likely put a dent in the Blues' ticket sales. (Three years ago they were at 100% capacity. This year they're at 86.7%. So that's my best guess why.)
On top of that, the current owner is still dealing with a bad deal made by the previous owner. Instead of getting an exemption from the city's luxury tax on everything that goes on at the arena, the previous owner decided to use the town's good will to get financing on a new opera house down the street from the arena. The team owns that opera house, but they aren't making money on it because they're still paying the city for it.
Actually, it's a miracle this team is as good as it is. They could be a complete train wreck.
3. St. Louis Blues
Estimated Value: $180 Million
This year the Tampa Bay Lightning are averaging an excellent 18,261 fans per game. That's only 384 fewer fans per game than the Rays averaged. Unfortunately, that large attendance is due to the third-cheapest average ticket price ($38) in the NHL. So that's probably why the Bolts lost $13.1 million in 2011-12.
The team is run very well by GM Steve Yzerman, and they have a Stanley Cup banner and (arguably) the best player in hockey in Steven Stamkos. However, they are never going to get a lucrative media deal in Tampa, so it's hard to see how they'll ever really get much more valuable than they are right now.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
Estimated Value: $175 Million
The Columbus Blue Jackets made major organizational changes prior to last season, ditching former franchise player Rick Nash and bringing in a couple of guys who helped make the Blues the model franchise they are today (relative to their predicament) in team president John Davidson and GM Jarmo Kekalainen. However, none of that changes the fact that Columbus's first love is college football, or that the team has made the playoffs just once in it's twelve seasons. For those reasons, Blue Jackets filled the stands to just 80% capacity last year—lowest in the league—with just 14,564 people on hand every night.