As a league that spans the continent from as far North as Edmonton to as far South as Florida, the NHL has introduced hockey teams into a variety of different sports markets. Needless to say, most of its high-profit organizations reside North of the border and in the American North-East. However, the NHL has spawned some very competitive teams over the years that hail from non-traditional hockey cities.
The NHL’s current collective bargaining agreement limits each team’s yearly spending to $64.3 million. Although it is expected to rise next season, this salary cap ensures that richer teams cannot monopolize the league’s best players. Because of this, smaller-market franchises have been able to stay competitive, adding to the excitement and credibility of the game. In fact, a revenue-sharing aspect of the CBA even helps stimulate the economy of teams in poor hockey markets.
Still, the game can only be so exciting for teams whose arenas are half full during home games. Clearly, when it comes to popularity and revenue generated from ticket sales, merchandise and licensing, many teams are at a sharp disadvantage. While hockey dominates in most of Canada, it is eclipsed by sports like baseball and football in much of the Southern United States.
This article will take a look at the 10 least valuable NHL teams according to Forbes as of November 2013. Surprisingly, some of these teams have been Stanley Cup contenders and champions, showing just how diverse the NHL is when it comes to the strength of its teams.
10. Anaheim Ducks – Current Value: $300 Million
Following the success of Disney’s 1992 film, The Mighty Ducks, the Walt Disney Company founded the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The team changed hands in 2005, being bought by couple Henry and Susan Samueli for a measly sum of just $70 million. Henry Samueli is the chairman and CEO of Broadcom Corporation and is respected immensely in the technology world. However, his success hasn’t entirely carried over to the NHL ice. Now known as simply the Anaheim Ducks, the team has had a sketchy track record, failing to make the playoffs in two of the past four seasons. The franchise did however win their first and only Stanley Cup during their second season under the Samuelis’ ownership in 2006-07. The Ducks play at the Honda Center in Anaheim, the rights for which Honda is paying $60 million over 15 years. Since the arena sees little action in the offseason, it is running at a loss, not helped by the fact that the Ducks have the third lowest annual revenue in the league at $69 million.
9. Buffalo Sabres – Current Value: $250 Million
The Buffalo Sabres are owned by American multimillionaire Terrence Pegula, who purchased the club in 2011 for a sum of $165 million. Unfortunately, the team hasn’t seen much growth since it shifted owners. The Sabres missed the playoffs in their first year under the new owner. Things haven’t gotten much better since, as the club missed the playoffs for the past two seasons and is currently dead last in the league, but it still enjoys a high level of popularity. Its average rating of 6.6 on the MSG network is the second-highest in the NHL. The Sabres have also maintained solid attendance numbers at their games over the past eight seasons. Thanks to a supportive fanbase, the Sabres enjoy the highest annual revenue of all the teams on this list at $76 million.
8. Florida Panthers – Current Value: $240 Million
The Panthers didn’t see even a single playoff game from 2000 up untill last season, where they lost in seven games to the New Jersey Devils in the first round. Vincent Viola purchased the team in September 2013 for $240 million from former owner Cliff Weiner. Though their gate attendance increased due to the improved performance last season, they still rank 22nd in home turnout in the NHL. Moreover, the Panthers don’t enjoy much popularity on the television front with a league lowest average cable tv audience of 4,000 households per game. The team is however expected to net $37 million for the 10-year extension on the naming rights of the BB&T Center. Their last annual revenue was calculated at $69 million.
7. Nashville Predators – Current Value: $205 Million
Nashville cannot be considered a hockey town by any stretch of the imagination. For this reason, the team’s value has seen little growth since being bought by Thomas Cigarran in 2007 for $174 million. Following the 2001-12 season, the Predators matched the Philadephia Flyers’ offer to keep their captain Shea Weber, having to cough up $110 million to seal the deal. The Predators have suffered more serious losses over the past years, with the team’s investors themselves having to put in over $60 million to keep the team above water. The city of Nashville kicks in some financial and tax incentives too in exchange for using Bridgestone arena for non-hockey events. Their lease contributes to the largest part of the team’s annual revenue which is around $88 million.
6. Phoenix Coyotes – Current Value: $200 Million
The Phoenix Coyotes exact a huge cost on their hometown of Glendale, Arizona which has a debt of around $680 million. As a result, Glendale’s bond rating has suffered major blowbacks from the team’s investors. The city pays as much as $50 million to the NHL every year to cover up the losses caused by the team and its arena. In August 2013, a group led by investors George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc spent $170 million to purchase the team and the a new lease for Jobing.com arena. High debt and low attendance make their $67 million annual seem much more impressive than it actually is.
5. New York Islanders – Current Value: $195 Million
Forever second-fiddle to the New York Rangers, the Islanders are owned by businessman and philanthropist Charles Wang, who purchased the team in 2000 for $130 million. Due in part to the Islanders’ league-lowest annual revenue of $61 million and failure to procure a deal to renovate their current arena, the team is moving to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets) for the 2015-16 season. Though the new building has a lower seating capacity than the Islanders’ ageing Nassau Veterans Memorial Colloseum, the team’s weak draw at games makes changing location a rational and financially wise move. A new environment might just be the fresh start the team desperately needs.
4. Carolina Hurricanes – Current Value: $187 Million
Peter Karmanos Jr. has owned the Carolina Hurricanes since 1994, when he bought the team for $48 million. Since then, Karmanos has brought in 15 different investors to help cover operating losses. Having missed the playoffs for the last four consecutive seasons, the Hurricanes lowered their ticket prices in many sections of PNC arena. In spite of the reduced costs, the team registered an average attendance of only 86% capacity, a number that has been steadily declining since the team’s 2006 Stanley Cup win. As a result, the Hurricanes had to further slash the prices of their tickets by around 15-33%. The top eight rows of the South Lower Level now cost only $45 per game. Thanks to help from its investors, the team’s annual revenue is $85 million.
3. St. Louis Blues – Current Value: $185 Million
Tom Stillman bought St. Louis Blues in 2012 for a price of $180 million. The beer distributor purchase the team from private equity firm TowerBrook Capital Partners and SCP Worldwide, who held 70% and 20% stakes in the team respectively. Since the Blues were operating at a loss, Stillman was able to buy the team at a discount, paying $30 million less than the previous owners. Stillman owned a 10% stake in the team prior to purchasing it and is currently acting as Chairman and Governor. Despite their financial woes, the Blues have been strong the past two seasons. They were part of the NHL’s first expansion from six to twelve teams in 1967 and remain the oldest team in the league to have yet to win a Stanley Cup.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning – Current Value: $180 Million
The Tampa Bay Lightning were purchased by Boston investment banker Jeffrey Vinik in 2010 for a tidy $93 million. Since the team exchanged owners, its annual attendance at the Tampa Bay Times Forum arena has increased by almost 3,000 seats per game. One of the reasons for the increased fandom has been a cheap average ticket price of $38 – the third-cheapest in the NHL. The Tampa Bay Times and Dex are the Lightning’s two main sponsors and they also signed a new agreement with CDW to provide 300 LG flat-screen TVs in exchange for marketing opportunities at the arena. Perhaps some of their $72 million annual revenue can be attributed to the team having the highest beer prices in the NHL at $8 per 12 ounces.
1. Columbus Blue Jackets – Current Value: $175 Million
Last season the Columbus Blue Jackets filled their arena to a average of 80% capacity, the lowest figure of any NHL team. In 2012, Nationwide, an insurance company, decided to buy a 30% stake in the Blue Jackets for $52 million. Additionally, the company will also pay the team $28.5 million over the next 10 years to gain exclusive naming rights to their arena. Nationwide has also struck a $42.5 million deal with The Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority, who will be the new owners of the struggling arena, which has been losing money for the Blue Jackets since 2000. Philanthropist and sports nut John H. McConnell will retain a 52% majority in the team. McConnell has owned the Blue Jackets since 1997, when he bought the team for $80 million.
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