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NHL 2013: Stick-ing to the Post Lockout Business Script

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
October 14, 2013

After striking a ten-year labor deal in January after a lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season and drawing record television audiences for the Stanley Cup finals in June, the National Hockey League is off to a fast, fan-friendly start after its first full week of play in the 2013-2014 season and primed for its best TV numbers to date.
The NHL’s primary cable home, NBCSN, is in 79.1 million homes, up from 78.0 million homes during the same period last year, according to Sports Business Daily. The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi await, always a boost to hockey’s casual fan base. And a record number of crowd-pleasing outdoor games are sure to boost the NHL’s viewership and attendance numbers as well.

“The game on the ice is as strong as it’s ever been," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told “Sportfolio” host Rick Horrow at last month’s Bloomberg Sports Summit, “and we’re looking to continue to grow our business, particularly in North America, but internationally as well, whether it’s going to the Olympics or World Cup possibilities. We’re doing more outdoor games this year, and we want more people playing and watching the game than ever before. That continues to be our goal."

Regarding the lockout, and the $3.3 billion in revenues the league earned despite the shortened season, Bettman says, "We came back stronger than anybody could have expected after a shortened season last year. We think all the vital signs are good going forward."

Hockey now has its first-ever billion-dollar franchise, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the average NHL franchise is worth $282 million, 18% more than a year ago, according to Forbes annual league valuations. The league has enthusiastic new ownership that will help stabilize troubled teams in the warm weather regions of Florida and Arizona, and its new $60 million Industry Growth Fund, an offshoot of the new collective bargaining agreement presents incredible opportunities to level the economic playing field.

"I think we’re at a point now where we have the most franchise stability we’ve ever had," Bettman said, "and that’s a testament to the new CBA and some new owners coming in who have been really great for some of our franchises. We have substantial revenue sharing, and as part of the CBA we agreed with the players’ association that if there was an opportunity to invest in something that would help a club grow the game and grow revenues, we would do so.”

Quite a bit of the game’s growth in 2014 will happen in the great outdoors. Starting on New Year’s Day, the league will hold a record six open-air matches this season, from the New Year’s rescheduling at the University of Michigan’s Big House of last year’s Maple Leafs-Red Wings matchup (which didn’t happen due to the lockout) to the “battle of Southern California” at Dodgers Stadium between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks, returns to Yankee Stadium and Soldiers Field, and a March 2 battle in Vancouver between the Senators and the Canucks.

About the robust slate of outdoor games this season, Bettman told Horrow, "They cater to the imagination, presenting hockey in a unique way and taking the game back to its roots…They are special events and our fans can’t seem to get enough of them."

With those fans in mind and the NHL well season underway, a report from secondary ticket marketplace Vivid Seats looks at current ticket prices for all 30 NHL teams.

Since Hockey is Canada’s sport, it should come as no surprise that the Toronto Maple Leafs enter the season with the highest secondary ticket price in the NHL, with a median cost of $320. Sandwiched in between the Maple Leafs and the 3rd ranked, defending Stanley Cup Champion, Chicago Blackhawks ($212), is the rising Winnipeg Jets ($230), who beat out Montreal (4), and Vancouver (5).

It’s also not surprising that troubled NHL franchises in Phoenix and South Florida are NOT on this list, as the new ownership of those respective clubs is doing everything it can to lure fans to their games, including providing an affordable family experience.

In Arizona, it looks like the NHL and the new owners of the Coyotes will not be able to recover most of the $146 million the league was trying to extract from former Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes. The ruling from U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Redfield Baum last week, according to the Globe & Mail, could also prevent former Coyotes minority owner and coach Wayne Gretzky from collecting the $6.5 million owed to him, and is also a blow to Bettman, “who has long used the consent agreement to force owners eager to escape the financial obligations of a money-losing franchise to keep paying the bills."

Friday night in South Florida, the Panthers play their first home match under the scrutiny of new owner Vincent Viola, who, along with his family, has signaled his intent to reshape the franchise more in the mold of Original Six old-style family-run teams. A sellout is expected for the Panthers’ opener at the their home ice BB&T Center, and Panthers President and CEO Michael Yormark told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that season-ticket sales "are up from the lockout-shortened season total of the ’low 8,000s.’"

In more encouraging news for hockey in the Sunshine State, earlier this week, Florida Governor Rick Scott alongside his state’s two NHL franchises announced the creation of the Governor’s Cup, an annual competition between the Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The winner of the season series will be awarded the Cup following the final matchup of the season; each team will make a donation to the other team’s youth hockey initiatives.

Now that’s what we call “fan friendly.”

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