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Monday, July 22, 2024
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NBA and NHL Free Agency: Billions in New Deals Despite Economic Unrest

  • The NHL set a one-day record for player spending, while NBA activity remains robust.
  • Rising revenues and salary caps are helping fuel a run of historic contracts.
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

There may be economic angst in many other parts of the country, and the sports industry specifically. But when it comes to the NBA and NHL, free agent dollars are flowing at often-unprecedented levels.

The first day of 2024’s free agency in the NHL on Monday was marked by $1.2 billion in total salary commitments, according to salary cap website CapFriendly. The figure is a one-day league record, and the NHL’s first 24-hour period with at least $1 billion in player spending. 

The NBA, meanwhile, has seen $3.1 billion in total salary commitments since free agency began June 30, according to Spotrac. That total—already more than half of the $5.7 billion in NBA total offseason spending a year ago—includes $2.1 billion in free agency pacts and $1 billion more in contract extensions.

One of those extensions, the Celtics’ five-year supermax deal with forward Jayson Tatum (above), is worth $314 million, itself is the largest individual player deal in NBA history, and arrived just hours after the team’s announcement of a forthcoming sale of the franchise by owner Wyc Grousbeck and his partners.

Underlying Economics

The robust player spending is a direct outgrowth of still-rising revenues for both leagues, even in an era of unprecedented media disruption—particularly at the local level given the ongoing bankruptcy of Bally Sports parent Diamond Sports Group. 

The NHL just finished a banner season with record levels of both revenue ($6.2 billion) and attendance (22.56 million total), and a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final that was the league’s most-watched game in five years. Amid those widespread growth markers, the 2024–25 salary cap rose by 5.4% to $88 million—also the biggest boost in half a decade—and commissioner Gary Bettman is projecting more cap increases in subsequent years. 

“A lot of cash,” Maple Leafs general manager Brad Treliving, said of the initial NHL player spending. “I heard it from a lot of the agents, reminding me that the cap’s going up. It’s a competitive industry. There were players out there to fill holes in rosters. … You saw teams [being] aggressive, and lots of players changed teams.”

No Slowing Down

The NBA, meanwhile, remains on the cusp of a new set of national media rights deals that will more than double its annual intake there to nearly $7 billion per year. The final 2024–25 salary cap figure came in at $140.6 million, about $400,000 lower than previously projected, but is still 3.4% higher than a year ago. 

The league also set a combined attendance record of 22.54 million last season, and future cap increases are expected to approach 10% annually with the forthcoming national media revenues. 

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