DENVER — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league is projecting record revenue this season, an increase he credits to more scoring leading to higher television ratings and more interest in the game.
Bettman at his annual state of the league address Wednesday before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final estimated revenue will surpass $5.2 billion. He said he received information earlier in the afternoon indicating that was a conservative estimate.
“We were able to stabilize the business and power through,” Bettman said. "Didn’t mean that at times there weren’t challenges, didn’t mean at times we didn’t have to adjust. Some of you on occasion said we were making it up as we went along, and we were, but we did what we had to do to get through it.”
The league generated $4.6 billion in the last normal full season in 2018-19, before the pandemic wreaked havoc on sports and more specifically the NHL given its larger reliance on ticket revenue and other arena money that was not possible with no fans in the building or limited capacities.
The financial increase also stems from new U.S. media rights deals with ESPN and Turner Sports that went into effect this season. The salary cap is projected to go up $1 million to $82.5 million next season, though bigger bumps are likely in the following years after players finish paying off a substantial debt to owners accrued over the past couple of years to balance hockey-related revenue 50/50.
A constant message from the league and NHL Players' Association has been a desire to grow the total pie for the benefit of everyone. Perhaps the highest-scoring season since midway through Bettman's first year on the job is aiding that effort.
An average of 6.28 goals a game were scored during the regular season, the highest rate since 1992-93.
“Everything we do, particularly around the game, and from a business standpoint, is only important to the extent that the game is healthy on the ice, and the game is healthy on the ice," Bettman said. “The younger stars, our competitive balance is unmatched by any of the other major leagues, and it gives us incredible races in the regular season and it gives us playoffs that are as unpredictable as anything you can say.”
Speaking hours before the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the Colorado Avalanche faced off in Game 1 of the first final in Denver since 2001, Bettman also expressed joy and relief at a return to normalcy in his first Cup Final address done in person in three years.
“I am delighted that after two and a half years, things are actually feeling normal,” he said.