North American ice hockey’s NHL will generate record revenues of over $5.2 billion this season, commissioner Gary Bettman has said.

If achieved, the figure would be an increase from pre-pandemic levels for the league.

In the 2019-20 season, before the Covid-19 outbreak, the NHL generated revenue of $4.9 billion, with the figure unsurprisingly dropping to just $2.9 billion in 2020-21 due to the global health crisis.

In its most recent annual financial report of the NHL and its teams, Forbes had projected that hockey-related revenue will reach $4.8 billion this season, before climbing to $5.4 billion in 2022-23 and $6 billion by the 2025-26 campaign.

Speaking ahead of the opening game of the Stanley Cup Finals yesterday (June 15), Bettman outlined how the league was able to recover financially from the pandemic after completing a full 82-game season for the first time in two years.

He said: “What we’ve done is we’ve [continued to operate], we’ve done the fundamentals of our business. We had a major increase in our national media revenues in the United States. Our buildings are back to basically where they were [with attendance], and maybe a little better.

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“Our playoffs this year, the first two rounds generated 88% of the revenues that we did in the first two rounds the last time we had normal playoffs [in 2019]. We continued to put on NHL hockey under the most difficult of times. … We were able to stabilize the business and power through.”

Bettman is confident the NHL can pay off the debts accumulated during the Covid-19 period within three years and continue to generate huge revenues.

The NHL commissioner added: “We anticipate revenues continuing to grow at a healthy rate. Two, maybe three years is my projection [for paying off our debts]. I can’t really do a very good job of projecting next year or the year after that until we get a fix on this year. But things are very strong and very solid.”

The league is in the first year of its lucrative new long-term domestic media rights agreements with ESPN and Turner Sports.

The NHL signed seven-year agreements with the national networks worth a combined $625 million per season compared to $300 million in the previous deal with NBC.

As well as the increased TV rights income, the addition of an expansion franchise in Seattle (Seattle Kraken) has contributed significantly to the uplift in revenue.

Meanwhile, the Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Final on ESPN was the most-watched since 2013 across both cable and broadcast.

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 4-2 series win over the New York Rangers averaged 2.4 million viewers – an increase of 82% from the 2021 conference final.

The Lightning’s clinching game six victory last Saturday (June 11) averaged 2.8 million viewers, up 83% from the comparable game last year, and peaked at 3.8 million viewers.

It is the most-viewed conference final game six on cable since 2002.

The Stanley Cup playoffs to date across ESPN and ESPN2 have averaged 1.2 million viewers across 44 games – an increase of 30% from all 2021 playoffs to date across cable and broadcast.

NHL digital content on ESPN’s platforms was accessed by 25.3 million unique visitors, which generated nearly 421 million total minutes of engagement – up 46% and 129%, respectively, from 2021.

Across Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter, ESPN’s NHL social media content has generated 12.2 million total engagements and 181.9 million video views.

The Stanley Cup Finals – which are being shown by ESPN – began with the Colorado Avalanche beating the Lightning 4-3 in overtime to take a 1-0 series lead. Game two will be played on Saturday (June 18).

As part of its broadcast deal with the NHL, ESPN will air the Stanley Cup Finals in four of the seven years (2022, 2024, 2026, and 2028), while Turner will show it for the other three years (2023, 2025, and 2027).