After Ottawa Senators Sale, When Will an NHL Team Sell for $1 Billion?

NHL, Ottawa Senators. (Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Getty Images)***
NHL, Ottawa Senators. (Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Getty Images)*** /

Let’s turn back the clock to 2014, and let’s take a look at a different sport besides the NHL, like the NBA.

You probably remember the controversy surrounding former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, which forced him to sell the Clippers to current owner Steve Ballmer for around $2 billion.

It was the second time the purchase of a sports franchise crossed into the billion-dollar territory after the Los Angeles Dodgers sold for $2 billion back in 2012.

I use the Clippers as an example because I remember my high school self being amazed at the amount as they reported it on SportsCenter. “Billion, with a ‘B’, am I hearing this right?” I thought to myself.

My favorite team, the New Jersey Devils, sold (along with their home arena the Prudential Center) for a measly $320 million the summer before in 2013. Speaking of the NHL, that same year saw the Florida Panthers sell for $275 million to current owner Vincent Viola and the Phoenix Coyotes sell for $170 million.

When will an NHL team be sold with that billion-dollar price tag?

All are relative pocket change compared to the current cost of sports teams. Josh Harris, one of the co-owners who bought the Devils in 2013, submitted a bid for $6 billion to purchase the NFL’s Washington Commanders.

The NHL has yet to see one of its clubs join the billion-dollar club in terms of sales price. With the announcement that the Ottawa Senators will be sold to Michael Andlauer for a “record price”, we get close with a deal reported to be just under $1 billion.

Who will be the first NHL team to sell for a billion dollars?

Forbes 2022 ranking of the most valuable NHL franchises has fourteen teams (the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Seattle Kraken, Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, Vancouver Canucks, and Tampa Bay Lightning) valued between $1 billion and $2.2 billion.

For the record, Forbes evaluations are best described as a very informed guestimate. It includes factors such as last sale price (or how much was paid for the expansion fee), how popular the team is, do they have a new stadium, do they want their own stadium, do they need a new stadium, etc.

One of those teams that Forbes had over the $1 billion marker was the Tampa Bay Lightning. On Thursday, it was announced that Arctos Sports Partners would be purchasing a minority stake in the team.

Arctos was already a minority owner of the Lightning, so this will up their investment and ownership stake. The valuation of the entire team was placed at $1.4 billion, although the share Arctos will be purchasing is likely worth a lot less.

Vinik Sports Group, who bought the Lightning for only $170 million in 2010, will remain the majority owner.

Had the Senators gotten their long-awaited new stadium already, the purchase price most likely would have topped the billion-dollar mark. If they were a United States-based team, that could have pushed them over the top as well.

Canadian economic factors and the conversion between Canadian and American currency have long been a point of contention for the NHL.

As for the other billion-dollar teams, don’t expect any to go on sale soon, although there is always the possibility. James Dolan, who owns the MSG corporate entity that owns the New York Rangers, has been rumored to spin off some of his holdings (like their regional sports network) into a separate company. That could indirectly affect the Rangers valuation.

The Wirtz family has owned the Chicago Blackhawks since 1954. Will the recent scandals surrounding the franchise put them in a similar situation to Sterling was in the NBA? Probably not, and the franchise’s fortunes are getting a lot brighter with them winning the Connor Bedard lottery, so the Wirtz family will without a doubt see the franchise’s value increase from the increase in ticket sales and on-ice success.

A very interesting aspect in sports team sales is that it very often doesn’t just include the sports team only. Remember how I mentioned the Devils were sold in 2013 along with their stadium? Those additional assets can really drive up the price of a franchise.

On the other side, if a franchise is in significant debt or has arena issues (here’s looking at you, Coyotes), that could drive the purchase price down.

A Sports Business Journal article tracked every sports team sale from 1998-2018 along with any additional assets (minor league teams, arena, land around the arenas) sold in the deal. Take a look and you’ll see what’s been included in the deal.

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As much as we make fun of the Coyotes, owner Alex Meruelo seems committed to the Arizona market, for now at least. It would appear that every team in the NHL is in a very stable ownership position, so I wouldn’t expect a sale. Then again, the deal to sell the Pittsburgh Penguins to Fenway Sports Group last year was a bit surprising, but not completely unexpected.