When it comes to the four major league sports (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL), the NBA and MLB have had less success in Canada vs. the USA, primarily due to demographics. With the exception of Toronto, most of the cities tend to be smaller and have fewer corporate headquarters relative to U.S. cities. Currently there is only one NBA and one MLB team in Canada, both in Toronto.
There is one major league sport, however, that is thriving in Canada, the National Hockey League (“NHL”). The NHL teams in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal are doing very well. In fact, they’re doing much better on average than their U.S. counterpart cities that have much larger populations (i.e. Dallas and Atlanta which is now a former NHL city). So much so that one may say there are really two NHLs, the Canadian NHL and the U.S. NHL.
How can that be?
Let’s look at the estimated 2013 franchise values of the teams as published by Forbes magazine. Three of the seven Canadien teams are in the top four of league franchise values. The Toronto Maple Leafs are first at $1.2 billion, the Montreal Canadiens third at $775 million and the Vancouver Canucks fourth at $700 million. The NHL league average is $413 million. The remaining Canadian teams are valued as follows:
Our home team, the Dallas Stars, comes in at $333 million and the Columbus Blue Jackets rank last at $175 million.
Now some interesting numbers: the seven Canadian teams feature values averaging $595 million, while the 23 American NHL teams average $358 million. That’s a little over half of the Canadian teams.
How can the New York Islanders, with a metropolitan statistical area (“MSA”) population of 19.9 million, be worth $195 million, while the Winnipeg Jets, with an MSA population of 0.7 million, are valued at $340 million? Additionally how can Vancouver, with a MSA population of 2.3 million, be valued at $700 million? The franchise value relationship with MSA population does not directly correlate. How can this be?
The answer is the popularity of hockey in Canada has no comparison to most U.S. cities. Hockey is the national sport of Canada. Kids grow up playing it, watching it and living it. That culture creates much greater revenue and profits for their teams. This can be demonstrated by analyzing the national television revenues and the local revenues of NHL teams.
The U.S. has a population of 319 million people vs. 35 million for Canada, yet the national TV rights for the NHL in Canada was recently won by Rogers Communications for $5.2 billion over 12 years, or an average of $433 million a year. This compares to the $2 billion, 10-year NBC U.S. deal which averages $200 million per year. In addition, 65% of the Canadian national TV rights will be shared with the 23 U.S. teams. It is interesting that a country with one-tenth the population gets about 2.2 times the national TV revenues compared to the U.S. and then has to share with the U.S. teams.
Local TV rights are retained by the teams, as are other local revenues from suites, sponsorship and ticket revenues. Here again, the Canadian teams far outshine the U.S. teams. Forbes estimates the average NHL ticket prices in Canada for six out of the seven teams was $70 for non-premium tickets. Forbes estimated that small markets, Edmonton and Calgary, each had $1.6 million in annual ticket revenues. Compare that figure with the New York Rangers ticket revenue of $1.8 million, and that comparison is shocking (if that is not shocking to you, please compare populations of the three cities). Additionally, local television viewing shows the same type of comparisons as national TV viewing. Therefore, smaller Canadian markets like Vancouver will have multiples of local TV revenue when compared to a larger U.S. market, like Dallas.
In conclusion, after considering the numbers, it is hard to make a case for franchise value comparison between Canadian and U.S. NHL teams. Clearly, the economics indicate there are two different NHLs.
This article was originally published in Valuation Viewpoint, October 2014.