SBJ/Jan. 24-30, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL on track for 5 percent revenue increase

Boosted by an increase in television viewership, sponsorship sales and online traffic, the NHL is on pace to generate $2.9 billion in total revenue for the 2010-11 season, a 5 percent increase from last season. The increase would mark the league's fifth consecutive season of revenue growth and an all-time record for league revenue.

"The numbers confirm the league's strategic choices," said NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins, who pointed to the Winter Classic and season-opening Face-Off events, the HBO series "24/7," and the league's online presence as areas that have extended the league's reach. "All of these choices combined to create a path for advertisers to reach our fans, and that is what has fueled our continued growth, despite the tough economy."

U.S. broadcaster Versus has seen the number of viewers increase 6 percent to an average of 301,000 through 29 telecasts, compared with 284,000 for the same period in the 2009-10 season. CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada" is averaging 1.52 million viewers over 24 telecasts, up 7 percent from last season's average of 1.42 million. TSN is averaging 686,000 viewers over 38 telecasts, a 6.5 percent increase from 2009-10.

NBC's prime-time broadcast of the Winter Classic became the most-watched regular-season NHL game in 36 years, earning a 2.3 rating and a 4 share, and averaging 4.5 million viewers, up 21.6 percent from the 2010 game.

Excluding broadcast contracts, league revenue from consumer products, digital media, the NHL Network, and sponsorship and advertising has grown 14 percent from 2009-10 and 85 percent since 2006-07, when the league initiated new strategies for digital products and sponsorship sales.

NHL At MidseasonTV Ratings
Network (No. of games) Avg. rating Avg. No. of viewers Change
NBC (1) 2.3 4,500,000 21.60%
Versus (29) 0.3 301,000 6.00%
CBC (24) NA 1,520,000 7.00%
TSN (38) NA 686,000 6.50%

At The Gate

Top 5
Bottom 5
Team Avg. attend.
Avg. attend.
Chicago Blackhawks 21,290 New York Islanders 10,112
Montreal Canadiens 21,273 Phoenix Coyotes 11,140
Philadelphia Flyers 19,607 Atlanta Thrashers 12,848
Detroit Red Wings 19,378 Columbus Blue Jackets 13,495
Toronto Maple Leafs 19,303 New Jersey Devils 14,205
NA: Not available Source: SBJ research

The NHL renewed partnerships with Bridgestone, Cisco and McDonald's over the past year and signed new deals with Canadian Tire, Tim Hortons, Hershey and Discover.

"We're now seeing our partners leverage their association with the NHL to do hockey-themed advertising, especially around the big events," said Brian Jennings, NHL executive vice president of marketing. "And we are especially pleased with the digital numbers."

Heading into Sunday's All-Star Game in Raleigh, the average number of monthly unique visitors to this season has risen 18 percent, to just under 21.2 million. Revenue from the league's GameCenter Live streaming service has increased 25 percent, and video starts on have risen 128 percent. The league just recorded its 1 millionth download of its mobile application and now boasts 1.3 million "likes" on Facebook and 483,000 Twitter followers.

The growth in revenue comes despite relatively flat numbers at the gate. Through Jan. 17, the NHL's average attendance was 16,974 fans per game, or 92.3 percent of capacity. The number represents a 0.2 percent increase from 2009-10.

"When you look at attendance, there is a finite amount of capacity," Jennings said. "Absent of building new arenas with demonstrably more seating, you're not going to see attendance spikes."

Of the league's 30 teams, 16 have shown attendance growth this season, with 12 teams playing at or above 100 percent capacity. The Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks lead the league, averaging 21,290 spectators a game, which is 108 percent capacity. The Tampa Bay Lighting and Nashville Predators lead the league in growth, with both teams enjoying between a 12 percent and 13 percent increase in attendance.

Chris Parker, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer for the Predators, said the team's emphasis on multigame ticket packages and seasonlong promotions helped the team boost its average from 14,239 to 16,000 fans a game.

"We've done a much better job of maximizing our advertising and our individual game promotion," Parker said. "And the team's performance has improved on the ice."

But sharp drops in attendance by a handful of clubs have soured the league average, and seven clubs recorded attendance averages below 15,000. The Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars and New York Islanders have all seen double-digit attendance drops, with the Islanders losing 17.6 percent and averaging 10,112 fans a game. Although the Phoenix Coyotes posted a 4.1 percent increase, the club's average of 11,140 is still only 65 percent capacity.

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