As the Minnesota Wild return to the ice for a new season, is it possible that their first playoff season in five years ended in April with an eight-figure loss?
The Wild, which by Forbes’ estimate had an operating loss of $3.9 million for its 2011-12 season, appeared to chart a turnaround last season, drawing an average 18,794 fans to the Xcel Energy Center for each of its 24 home games—packing the arena to 104.7 percent capacity, a percentage topped only by the Chicago Black Hawks, according to ESPN data. (Teams exceed stadium capacity through the sale of standing-room tickets.)
Sure, the $20 million signing bonus for free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter ate into the bottom line, and the strike-truncated season may have shaved revenues more than expenses. But $30 million?
That’s what Pioneer Press sports columnist Charley Walters suggested earlier this year, citing “a little birdie” as his source and adding that a “cash call” was made to investors in February. The Wild would neither confirm nor deny the rumored loss.
“Hockey is a ticket-revenue sport, unfortunately,” posits Lou Nanne, the former Minnesota North Stars general manager who now serves as senior managing director of RBC Global Asset Management. The Wild are “in the upper echelon of gate receipts” and “they do a hell of a job” when it comes to marketing and attracting fans.
Nanne estimates the Wild lost about $4 million to $8 million last year, after stripping out one-time costs. In other words, an NHL team can “do a hell of a job” and still hemorrhage cash.
Nanne offers the following illustration: On a good night, a team might make $1 million at the gate. Multiply that by 41 regular-season home games and three exhibition games, toss in a $6 million national TV contract, and you’re at $50 million. Add, say, $10 million for a local TV contract (the Wild’s deal is dwarfed by large-market franchises, says Nanne), and tack on $8 million to $10 million for concessions and merchandise. That’s $68 million—still shy of last year’s $70 million salary cap.
“You’re not even at the cap yet, and you haven’t paid expenses for travel, offices, marketing, league dues, referees,” says Nanne, who adds that NHL teams’ national TV contracts are worth a fraction of those in other sports like football and baseball. Ultimately, revenues haven’t kept pace with the salary cap.
“Some teams completely rely on making it a couple of rounds in the playoffs just to make a profit,” Nanne says. Last year, the Wild’s playoff run lasted two home games.