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Booming NHL business a double-edged sword for low-revenue teams

Nov 27, 2013, 1:01 PM EDT

Coyotes fans Getty Images

Yesterday, the NHL announced a 12-year Canadian broadcast agreement with Rogers worth almost $5 billion in U.S. dollars.

Yeah, it was a pretty big deal.

Immediately after the news broke, people started to wonder what it would mean for the league’s 30 franchises. And in particular, they wondered about the clubs that aren’t considered among the financial powerhouses of the NHL, for which finances are always a concern.

For example, Yahoo! Sports columnist Nicholas Cotsonika was thinking about the Phoenix Coyotes, a team that very nearly relocated this past summer before finally finding new ownership.

Say you’re the Coyotes. You have been at or near the bottom of the league in attendance in recent years. You want to win, draw fans and make the business work on your own. But the cap and floor are more manageable. You don’t have to hit attendance targets to receive revenue-sharing anymore. Your cut of the Canadian TV revenue now is $4.75 million a year at the current exchange rate, but it will shoot up to an average of about $13.8 million a year over the next dozen years – a $9.05 million difference per year. Now factor in revenue from the American TV deal, the outdoor games, a World Cup, other international events, et cetera.

And now consider this: If the NHL does expand – to, say, Quebec City and Seattle – the owners will split hundreds of millions of dollars in fees between them, and they won’t have to share any of that money with the players.

That’s the positive spin. But here’s the potential negative side, from the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman:

The only thing to worry about here is the salary floor, if you love a low-revenue club. Article 50.5 b (i) of the CBA states “the magnitude of the Team Payroll Range shall never be less than $16 million … or greater than $28 million.”

The promise of this new agreement allowed Bettman to stabilize his three biggest trouble spots: Florida, New Jersey and Phoenix. No doubt the owners of those teams, like Leonsis in Washington, are thrilled by the television bonanza and updated revenue-sharing formula.

The true test of the new CBA will be how many teams can’t afford to go much higher than the floor because you know the revenue powerhouses can’t wait to flex their financial-steroid muscles.

That’s the only concern I see. It’s at $44 million this season, and a $60-million base – with the upper limit approximately $20 million higher – is not out of the question in the near future.

The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle conservatively estimates the salary floor/cap will rise as follows throughout the course of the CBA:

source:

It’s impossible to say for sure how current low-revenue teams like the Coyotes, Panthers, Predators, and Blue Jackets will fare in the next few years. Yes, there will be more national TV money coming in, and yes, there’s more revenue sharing under the new CBA. But paid attendance will still matter greatly for individual clubs, meaning much will continue to depend on their win-loss records.

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