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Sunday, February 25, 2024
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NHL’s Projected Record Cap Reflects Revenue Surge (and Resilience)

  • Increased media revenue, rising attendance fuel post-pandemic recovery.
  • Escrow used in recent seasons due to end.
NHL-Gary-Bettman
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL’s financial outlook is rapidly improving, the latest evidence being the growth of its salary cap.

The league’s 2024-25 cap is projected to reach a new record of $87.7 million, up $4.2 million from the current level of $83.5 million and the largest year-over-year increase since the 2019-20 season.

Expected for months, the growth shows more precisely how the NHL has rebounded from the economic impact of the pandemic. In the early days of the global public health crisis, the league and the NHL Players Association reached a new labor deal that kept the salary cap at its 2019 level of $81.5 million until 2022. It then went up by $1 million, then by another $1 million earlier this year. 

But the NHL is now in the third year of domestic media rights deals with ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery Sports, which bring in roughly $625 million per year. Attendance reached a league-record 22.4 million in the 2022-23 season, and commissioner Gary Bettman’s bullish projections of further growth this season are gaining early support, with 25 of 32 teams showing increases at the gate.

And despite continued concern about crucial revenues from local media rights, teams forging their own path, like Arizona, are finding some early success, with ratings for early-season Coyotes games rising 900% due to increased reach.

At the NHL Board of Governors meetings this week, Bettman is expected to confirm that players’ debt to owners from pandemic-related losses has now been fully paid off, in turn eliminating an escrow used in recent seasons.

“The game is in great shape,” Bettman said at the last BOG meeting, in October. “Our franchises have never been better owned or stronger. … Vital signs are good.”

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