Hockey is more than a cool sport for serious fans. The National Hockey League is one of the four major professional sports associations in North America, boasting 30 professional ice hockey franchises in the US and Canada. The NHL governs the game, sets and enforces rules, regulates team ownership, and collects licensing fees for merchandise. It also negotiates fees for national broadcasting rights. (Each team controls the rights to regional broadcasts.) In addition, five minor and semi-pro hockey leagues also fly under the NHL banner. The league was organized in Canada in 1917.
Like other sports organizations, the NHL generates the bulk of its revenue through broadcasting fees, marketing sponsorships, and merchandise sales. Hockey remains the dominant spectator sport in Canada despite the fact that only six professional teams hail from the provinces, and there the NHL enjoys broadcasting partnerships with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and The Sports Network (TSN; owned by CTV). South of the border, however, the NHL enjoys a much smaller fan base than the National Football League and National Basketball Association, making it harder for the league to generate attention from national broadcasters.
The NHL's pact with broadcast network NBC, which extends through the 2020-21 season, is unique in sports as it offers the league a share of revenue from each game's advertising sales as opposed to a large sum paid up front for rights to the games.
To help expand its fan base in the US, the NHL operates its own cable sports channel, the NHL Network, which offers 24-hours of hockey news and features along with live coverage of some games. The league also broadcasts live games online through its NHL GameCenter subscription service. In addition, the NHL has broadcasting partnerships with satellite radio providers SIRIUS XM Radio and Canadian Satellite Radio (XM Canada).
The league's efforts to attract new fans, and re-energize old ones, have paid off with increased ticket sales at games and a growing number of fans accessing their hockey news from the NHL's website and mobile news services. Ratings for games on television in the US have also been on the rise thanks in part to special events such as an annual outdoor hockey match held on New Year's Day.
For the league's Stanley Cup playoff tournament more than 8.25 million people tuned in to see the Chicago Blackhawks defeat the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, the largest audience for any Stanley Cup Finals broadcast since the 1970s. The broadcast of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals between the Vancouver Canucks and eventual winners the Boston Bruins also drew good ratings that were just short of the 2010 benchmark. Although interest in the 2012 Finals between the New Jersey Devils and eventual winners the Los Angeles Kings saw a dip in ratings, most analysts believe the NHL's television profile is getting bigger and better overall.
Helping to secure the NHL's future growth is a collective bargaining agreement struck in 2005 that ended a season-long player lockout. The deal established a salary cap and revenue sharing between teams similar to the system used by the NFL. Many owners credited the leadership of commissioner Gary Bettman for holding the league together during the labor dispute and negotiating the new CBA. However, the owners and players are facing new negotiations to keep the labor deal in place for the 2012-13 season and beyond.
The NHL was forced to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes out of bankruptcy in 2009 in order to save the franchise. The league is still looking for a new ownership group to buy the struggling team and keep it in Arizona, but the NHL has not ruled out moving the club to another market. (Formerly known as the Winnipeg Jets, the team moved from Canada to desert Southwest in 1996.) The league allowed the Atlanta Thrashers to take the name "Winnipeg Jets" after the franchise moved from Atlanta, Georgia to Manitoba, Canada following the 2011 season.
Anaheim Ducks (2006)
Atlanta Thrashers (1999)
Boston Bruins (1924)
Buffalo Sabres (1970, New York)
Calgary Flames (1980, Alberta, Canada)
Carolina Hurricanes (1997, Raleigh)
Chicago Blackhawks (1926)
Colorado Avalanche (1995, Denver)
Columbus Blue Jackets (2000, Ohio)
Dallas Stars (1993)
Detroit Red Wings (1926)
Edmonton Oilers (1973; Alberta, Canada; joined the NHL from the World Hockey League in 1979)
Florida Panthers (1993, Miami)
Los Angeles Kings (1967)
Minnesota Wild (2000, St. Paul)
Montreal Canadiens (1909)
Nashville Predators (1998)
New Jersey Devils (1982, East Rutherford)
New York Islanders (1972, Unionville)
New York Rangers (1926, New York City)
Ottawa Senators (1992; Ontario, Canada)
Philadelphia Flyers (1967)
Phoenix Coyotes (1996)
Pittsburgh Penguins (1967)
St. Louis Blues (1967)
San Jose Sharks (1991, California)
Tampa Bay Lightning (1992)
Toronto Maple Leafs (1927)
Vancouver Canucks (1947, joined the NHL from the Western Hockey League in 1970)
Washington Capitals (1974; Washington, DC)
Winnipeg Jets (2012)