In a season that saw outstanding on-ice performances capped by a spectacular playoff chase that went down to the last minute of the last game of the regular season, the NHL experienced unprecedented success off the ice, achieving myriad business records and milestones.
Led by dramatic increases in sponsorship and merchandise sales, landmark corporate investment in its big events and impressive digital growth, the NHL is on pace for its fifth consecutive year of record total revenue and is projected to bring more than $2.9 billion by the end of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. NHL Enterprises' revenue is forecasted to increase by 14.8 percent and also will set a new best. Sponsorship sales set an all-time record with gross sales increasing by 33 percent over last year as the League added to its blue chip roster of corporate partners, attracted by the most coveted fan demographic in all of pro sports. In February, the NHL announced a new seven-year partnership with Molson Coors in Canada and MillerCoors in the U.S. to begin in July – the biggest sponsorship in the League's 93-year history.
"The game on the ice, which has never been better, has fueled much of our business momentum," said NHL COO John Collins. "There is a buzz around our game. Fans are talking hockey, watching hockey and engaging with the NHL like never before. That in turn has led to the corporate community taking notice and embracing their association with the League in meaningful, creative and impactful ways."
The NHL's large-scale events in 2010-11 were once again a big driver of business growth for the League. The Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the League's annual outdoor New Year's Day game, played this year at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, sold out of all of its sponsorship opportunities and at the time generated more revenue than any event in NHL history. That record was broken just seven weeks later when the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic in Calgary, played for the first time since 2003, surpassed that mark. NHL All-Star returned after a one-year hiatus for the Olympics and was a huge success, boasting a 64 percent increase in sponsorship revenue over the last U.S.-based All-Star, as Discover Card was brought on board as the first presenting sponsor in a decade. Interest in the event spiked as the NHL introduced the innovative NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft Powered By Cisco as a means to select the two teams.
On the TV side, all North American partners experienced viewership increases while reaching new heights. NBC Sports' Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic broadcast was the most-watched regular season game in the U.S. in 36 years. On U.S. cable this season, VERSUS recorded its top four games in network history this season. VERSUS also earned its highest-ever NHL All-Star ratings for the 2011 game in Raleigh. Locally, 17 out of 30 NHL clubs' regional sports networks saw ratings increases or were even compared to last year.
The NHL Network increased ad revenue this season by 70 percent while unveiling multiple enhancements and original programming, with a particular emphasis on live coverage around tent pole events. Examples include the Network showing an unprecedented 16 hours of original programming around the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and introducing an addition 2 hours of live programming weeknights beginning at 4 p.m. ET around the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The League's loyal fans continued to crave all things NHL, driving merchandise sales to a robust a 15 percent increase over last year with Shop.NHL.com setting a new best with nine percent growth over last year's record.
The NHL's digital businesses continued to deliver new high-water marks and record revenue. Average monthly unique visitors to NHL.com this season are up 30 percent. In March, NHL.com set record unique visitors and video starts for the month, and is currently on pace to top those numbers in April.
Revenue for the NHL's digital businesses increased by 14 percent, with NHL.com revenue alone up 28 percent, setting a new best. Fans also continued to connect with the NHL via social media platforms, with the League reaching nearly 1.5 million fans on Facebook and growing its number of Twitter followers by 54 percent.
Below are highlights of the League's success across its various businesses:
- The NHL saw its fifth consecutive year of record revenue, with a projection of more than $2.9 billion by the end of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs despite a challenging economy
- NHL Enterprises revenue is forecasted to increase by 14.8 percent over last year
- NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover in Raleigh showed a 64 percent increase in sponsorship revenue over the last U.S.-based All-Star event
- The 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic in Calgary was the highest revenue generating event in NHL history and the highest-rated game between two Canadian teams in Versus' history
- The 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic saw all sponsorship opportunities sold out and a 22 percent increase in U.S. viewership on NBC. It was the most-viewed regular season game on U.S. TV in 36 years.
- The League saw a record year for sponsorship sales with gross sales up 33 percent over last year
- In February the NHL signed the biggest sponsorship deal in its history with Molson Coors in Canada and MillerCoors in the U.S., which begins in July 2011.
- The NHL added Discover Card as the first presenting sponsor of the All-Star Game in a decade
- The League also signed or renewed sponsorship deals with Bridgestone, Canadian Tire, Cisco Systems, Discover Card, McDonald's, Huggies, RIM/Blackberry and Tim Hortons.
- Overall merchandise sales gained 15 percent
- Growth was driven by strong category sales in jerseys, electronic games, lifestyle apparel, headwear, sales at big events (Winter Classic, All-Star, Heritage Classic), Chicago post-Stanley Cup sales
- In-arena per-cap sales increased by 10 percent
- The NHL Powered by Reebok store saw 8 percent growth
- Sales on Shop.NHL.com set a new record and were up 9 percent year-over-year
- The Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on NBC was the most-watched regular season game on U.S. TV in 36 years and showed a 22 percent increase in viewership over 2010
- NBC Sports' coverage of Penguins-Blackhawks, the second game of "Hockey Day in America," was watched by 1.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched non-Winter Classic NHL regular-season game in five years (1/14/06, three-game regional on NBC, 2.0 million).
- The top 10 NBC markets in terms of ratings growth were: 1. Minneapolis/St. Paul (+70%), 2. San Antonio (+67%); 3. Dayton (+60%); 4. Kansas City (+50%); 5. Pittsburgh (+42%); 6. Baltimore (+38%); T7. New York (+33%); T7. Washington D.C. (+33%); 9. Albuquerque-Santa Fe (+29%); T10. Buffalo (+25%) T10. Knoxville (+25%); T10. Louisville (+25%)
- Regular season viewership increased by 17 percent over last year
- The top two and four of the top five most-watched NHL regular season games in Versus' history came this season
- The 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover on VERSUS was the most-watched on the network's history and gained 36 percent over the 2009 telecast
- CBC's Hockey Night in Canada game one regular season viewership average increased by 10 percent over last year
- CBC's Hockey Night in Canada game two regular season viewership average increased by 6 percent over last year
- TSN's regular season viewership increased by eight percent
- RDS' viewership was up 9.6 percent over last year in the Quebec francophone market
- Locally, 17 out of 30 NHL clubs' regional sports networks saw ratings increases or were even compared to last year. The top 5 NHL markets in terms of ratings growth on cable RSNs were: 1. St. Louis (+43%), 2. Boston (+41%), 3. Tampa Bay (+33%), 4. Dallas (+29%), 5. Nashville (+25%).
- Average monthly unique visitors gained 30 percent over last season
- March 2011 was NHL.com's biggest month all time in terms of unique visitors, and is on pace to break that record for April 2011.
- NHL.com attracted a single-day record for unique visitors on March 23 – besting the previous record by 67 percent
- Video starts increased by 139 percent over last season
- Visits to NHL.com were up 17 percent, and page views were up 8 percent
NHL GameCenter Live
- Page Views on the NHL Mobile website showed a 58 percent increase from last season
- Revenue increased by 30 percent
- March set a record in terms of total visits and page views, and is on pace to top those numbers for April 2011
- Subscriptions gained 37 percent over last season
- The NHL Facebook page has 1.46 million fans, a 436 percent increase over last year
- NHL followers on Twitter have increased by 54 percent
- NHL teams averaged 17,132 fans and played to 93.2 percent of capacity. This average is the third largest all-time and an increase over last year.*
(*Attendance figures for 2010-11, 2009-10, 2008-09 and 2007-08 are through corresponding number of home games played this season. Attendance figures for all Winter Classic and European Premiere Series games have been replaced with the team's home capacity.)