A recent Forbes article submits that many NHL franchises, including the Columbus Blue Jackets, had a 2020 to forget.
The Blue Jackets are now ranked the 29th most valuable franchise in the NHL, coming in at $310M. More than 20 teams, per the article, saw their value decrease year-over-year. Columbus was on that list with a one-year change of -5%. The Blue Jackets are also one of nine organizations that posted double-digit operating losses ($10.3M). The final tally isn't only bleak for Columbus, though, as many other teams, including the Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning, lost $11M this year.
Unsurprisingly, the losses in value are largely attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic. The league had to shut down its regular season, then play a playoff with no ticket sales, luxury suites, concessions, etc. Per the report, the NHL "missed out on more than $200 million in arena playoff revenue that largely falls to the bottom line".
The result: The average NHL team value fell 2%, to $653 million, the first decline since 2001. Revenue for the league totaled $4.4 billion during the 2019-20 season, 14% less than the previous year. Operating income was $250 million, down 68%. That’s left many owners scrambling for a lifeline.
While small market teams like the Blue Jackets, Lightning, and New York Islanders (who lost the most, $39M, per the article) suffered greatly, the NHL's preeminent, old guard franchises propped up the majority of the NHL, financially speaking (Note: it's safe to say that nobody in the NHL league office was rooting for the Blue Jackets to defeat the Maple Leafs in the qualifying round).
The league’s five most valuable teams—New York Rangers ($1.65 billion), Toronto Maple Leafs ($1.5 billion), Montreal Canadiens ($1.34 billion), Chicago Blackhawks ($1.085 billion) and Boston Bruins ($1 billon)—accounted for almost a quarter of the league’s revenue. Without them, the league would have lost $50 million.
Finally, while the NFL, NBA, and MLB are flush with TV money, the NHL has no such luxury. Some of the wealthiest teams (Toronto, Montreal, New York Rangers, etc.) have their own lucrative deals in place, but the majority of the NHL does not. Notably, the NHL's US TV deal with NBC expires after the 2020-21 season. ESPN is reportedly interested in TV rights, which would be a major financial win for the NHL.
There is some hopeful news, however. A vaccine will be available imminently, meaning teams are one step closer to their main source of income: fans in the stands. And while a proposed 56-game season with minimal/no fans is far from ideal from a revenue standpoint, it should help stabilize a league that relies desperately on that source of income. Lastly, the $650M franchise fee paid by the Seattle Kraken to join the league will result in a $21.6M windfall for every NHL team except the Vegas Golden Knights, who are excluded from receiving the payment.