While it’s important to take Forbes’ annual list of the most (and least) valuable NHL franchises with a grain of salt, the rankings are also seductively interesting. With that crucial caveat out of the way, note that the Rangers ranked as the most valuable NHL franchise by Forbes ($1.65B), beating the Maple Leafs ($1.5B). Meanwhile, the Coyotes, Panthers, and to some extent Blue Jackets jockeyed to stay out of last place.
Forbes lists Rangers as most valuable NHL franchise for 2020
Again, it’s crucial to stay calm with the Forbes list of most valuable NHL franchises.
As Jonathan Willis noted over the years, these are just estimates. After all, NHL teams aren’t giddy to share financial information with the public.
The Forbes numbers are fun because they're all we have, but when they're off by 300% it's pretty clear how much weight to give them.
— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) June 5, 2014
That said, there’s something to be said for perception, and also educated guesses.
By the Forbes’ 2020 list estimates, five NHL teams are worth at least $1 billion: the Rangers ($1.65B), Maple Leafs ($1.5B), Canadiens ($1.34B), Blackhawks ($1.085B), and Bruins ($1B).
After that top five, the Kings ($825M) and Flyers ($800) round out the teams worth at least $800M, according to Forbes. There are 10 teams worth at least $700M by Forbes estimates, with the Capitals ($750M) and Canucks ($725M) making that cut.
Beyond sheer value, it’s interesting to see Forbes estimates of revenue and operating income.
For instance, take the reigning Stanley Cup champion Lightning. On one hand, they’re merely ranked 21st value-wise at $470M. From there, their financial details present a mixed bag of good ($125M in operating revenue) and not-so-good (-$8.3M in operating income). Perhaps that’s evidence of the price to contend in a “non-traditional market?”
Forbes ranks Coyotes, Panthers, and Blue Jackets as least-valuable NHL franchises
Sure, fans might want their team to be ranked No. 1, but ranking last probably brings out the truest angst.
(That’s where maybe it’s wise to once again circle back to that “grain of salt” talk?)
If nothing else, it’s intriguing to ponder the teams that fall in the lower range of value. Here’s the bottom five, from lowest to highest ranks, via Forbes:
While the Coyotes ranked last in value ($285M), the Panthers’ situation may be more troubling, with less estimated revenue ($92M vs. $95M for Coyotes), and greater losses in operating income (-$29M for Panthers, -$17M for Coyotes).
By Forbes’ estimates, 16 NHL teams were in the positive in operating income, with 15 negative. (Granted, the Flames were a modest +$400K.)
According to that list, the Islanders (ranked 16th at $520M; estimated $93M in revenue), sported a -$38M in operating income, the worst in that category. (Considering the likelihood of the Islanders sorting out their arena woes, this probably isn’t too worrisome.)
Once you get past the top 15 NHL franchises, the factors really start to vary.
It will be interesting, really, to see if the Lightning and Avalanche (22nd at $465M, $115M estimated revenue, -$10M operating income) can raise their franchise value if the wins keep coming. To many, the Avalanche look like the team of the future, but franchise values demand more than dark horse/critical darling statuses. Of course, deep playoff runs can really drive up that revenue.
COVID: the biggest caveat of them all
Throughout this article, it’s been important to sprinkle those grains of salt. But beyond lacking concrete information, NHL franchise values could stagnate or sink depending upon the lasting impact of COVID.
We’ve already seen the pandemic throw off the 2019-20 season, and the 2020-21 season could really be called 2021-21. Will the league get its way and hold a (fairly?) typical, 82-game season in 2021-22? Even if that goes smoothly, will there be a ripple effect?
On Tuesday, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun followed up on positive news about the NHL and NHLPA hashing out crucial financial details, thus targeting Jan. 13 as the start date for the 2020-21 season. LeBrun noted that some NHL owners may not be so happy that the 2020-21 season is planned to go on without additional salary deferrals from players (subscription required):
How many owners will be angry enough about not getting more financial concessions that they want to vote “no” on the season? You wouldn’t think enough to derail a season, but there are certainly some owners who aren’t happy with this turn of events. They felt they needed more salary deferral from the players to get through this year.
Considering limitations of fans in attendance, those revenue and operating income columns could get gruesome for 2021. And NHL franchise values could tumble with them.
Ultimately, the Forbes NHL franchise value list provides some interesting estimates to chew on. Chances are, there are plenty of details that remain unknown. As far back as 2010, leaked financial documents revealed that MLB teams were doing better than people thought.
At least at this time, we — and Forbes — can only really guess how much each NHL team is worth. And, in the event that one gets sold, all that really matters is how much someone would be willing to pay to own that team.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.