Forbes says Canadian teams are healthy; American teams not so much

Jonathan Willis
November 28 2012 12:29PM

Forbes annual look at the business of hockey was released on Wednesday, and if their estimates are accurate Canadian NHL teams are far and away the healthiest group of franchises in the game.

Before getting into the details, it’s important to talk about the weight put on these numbers. While Forbes is the only outlet (to my knowledge) publishing industry-wide financial estimates for the NHL, all of their figures are just that: estimates. NHL teams do not release financial data. These are educated guesses based on publicly available data.

With that caveat noted, let’s get into the results.

Highlights

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the first NHL team valued at $1 billion. Nothing shows the danger of relying on Forbes numbers more than the huge spike in value for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 2011, the magazine estimated the club was worth $521 million, but the sale of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment over the summer revealed that as a gross underestimate. Today, the figure nearly doubled to an even billion dollars.

Canadian NHL teams all seen as profitable. All seven Canadian teams are estimated to have an operating income (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) well in the black. Toronto is seen as the league’s most profitable team, with an operating income of $81.9 million, but Montreal ($51.6 million), Vancouver ($30.4 million), Edmonton ($16.2 million), Ottawa ($14.5 million) and Winnipeg ($13.3 million) all cracked the top-10, and Calgary ($11 million) was pegged as the 11th best-earning team in the NHL. All seven teams are at least eight figures in the black, according to Forbes.

Canadian team valuations remain low. While all seven teams are seen as profitable, only three – Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver – have an estimate franchise value in the league’s top-10. Teams narrowly in the red like Washington and San Jose are highly comparable to Edmonton and Calgary; despite an estimated eight-figure profit, Winnipeg’s franchise value narrowly edges out the Anaheim Ducks, with an estimated eight-figure deficit.

Franchise values up nearly across the board. We’ve considered how fickle Forbes’ estimates of franchise values can be, but they see good things for the NHL: 27 teams saw their franchise value stay the same or go up; only three clubs saw dips and only the St. Louis Blues –sold in May at a valuation of around $130 million – saw a major decrease.

The haves and have-nots. According to Forbes, there’s a wide gap between which teams are profitable and which ones are not. They list 13 teams at eight figure or near-eight figure profits, eight teams that are hovered around the break-even mark, and nine clubs losing nearly $10 million annually.

We will have team-specific posts to follow on many of the Nation Network's sites, please stay tuned.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.