SBD/November 6, 2014/SMT Conference

NHL COO John Collins Talks League's Revenue Growth, Plans For World Cup Of Hockey



Collins said the league's TV deal with Rogers provides room for growth
The NHL has ridden a wave of momentum in recent years, taking revenue from $2.2B in '06 to approximately $4B now. In a one-on-one interview during Day 1 of the ’14 NeuLion Sports Media & Technology Conference, NHL COO John Collins outlined some of the successes that brought the league to this point, and talked about what will continue to drive the league forward. A big piece of the puzzle will be the landmark 12-year, C$5.232B deal the league signed with Rogers Communications last November, a deal Collins said provides an opportunity to grow the league more, even in hockey-hungry Canada. He said it "provides an opportunity to better serve the Canadian fan, and the network is making a huge investment in innovating hockey on television.” Collins highlighted "Hockey Night In Canada," featuring every game in the NHL on Saturday nights, as well as building out a Sunday programming schedule. Efforts like these stem from one of the first conversations Collins ever had with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, in which Bettman shared his interest in changing the model of the league to more of a national business on top of what teams were already doing. Collins said that when the league was a $2.2B business, 95% of that was coming directly from the clubs. Now, roughly 25% of revenue comes from the national business. Here are some of the other topics Collins touched on during the interview:

OUTDOOR GAMES: The NHL last year had six outdoor games, a number that Collins attributes to '14 being a “special year” on the heels of the shortened lockout season and the Olympics. When asked how many outdoor games was the right amount, he jokingly said 1,230, the full schedule of regular-season games. While the NHL has only two scheduled for this year, Collins says the league will continue to evaluate what number is right.

SILICON VALLEY: Collins said one outdoor game this year will be held at Levi’s Stadium, providing an opportunity for the NHL to “rub against Silicon Valley.” The league held an “Innovation Day” on Oct. 27 at SAP Center in San Jose that featured demonstrations of new technology for league officials, rights holders, sponsors and club execs. One idea presented was a project with SportVision to reintroduce the “Fox glowing puck,” a feature used in the '90’s to highlight the puck’s location and speed during broadcasts. Collins said there is a big push to more properly create an accurate digital record of the action on the ice through technology and tracking akin to what has been done in baseball, and that the player’s union has been supportive of ideas for that.

WORLD CUP: The league is still moving forward with its plan to host a World Cup of Hockey. Collins said the current plan is to feature eight national teams at a single destination in a 16- or 17-game tournament that will span a couple of weeks with no qualifying games. Previous versions of the tournament, held in '96 and '04, were played in a variety of venues around the world. The tournament would likely be held in September and feature a best two-out-of-three final, Collins said. The league, along with the NHLPA, would own the tournament and could sell the rights to a broadcasting partner.

CONFLICT WITH OLYMPICS: Commenting on the revenue that might be realized from a World Cup of Hockey, Collins said the key difference between that event and the Olympics is that the World Cup would be “our IP, and the Olympics isn’t.” Collins said the league has not always received “full value” from having its players participate in the Olympics, as having the NHL “go dark” during the Games is a problem. Collins noted that the timing of the Olympics also presents a problem for its rights holders. Games played in some time zones, such as during the '10 Vancouver Games, can be shown in primetime, However, at other Olympics, like the '18 Pyeongchang Games, “a game being shown at 4 a.m. isn’t good.”

ADVERTISING OUTLOOK: Collins said that jersey sponsorship is both “coming and happening,” and noted that jersey branding by manufacturers is already a form of jersey sponsorship. He also noted that the league is continuing to test digital replacement technology for board advertisements, as written about in this week’s SportsBusiness Journal.
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