Forbes released its list of The World’s 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams on Wednesday, with soccer powerhouses Real Madrid clocking in at No. 1 for a third consecutive year with an estimated worth of $3.26 billion.
Billion – with a B, as in “boy that is a lot of goddamn money.”
Not surprisingly, the NFL landed the most teams in the Top 50 (20) followed by Major League Baseball (12), the NBA (10) and soccer (7), while Forbes says there are currently 61 teams around the world worth at least a billion dollars.
There is only one of them in the NHL and that’s the Toronto Maple Leafs, a club that has failed to make the playoffs far more often than naught in recent years and is just now at the start of a “take it to the studs” rebuilding project that should keep the club out of the chase for the Stanley Cup for the next few years yet.
Toronto landed at No. 37 on the list, valued at $1.3 billion, an 11-place fall from last year when the team sat at No. 26 and was valued at $1.15 billion.
If ever there were an indication about where hockey falls amongst the other major sports, this is it.
Toronto is the lone franchise to crack the Top 50 and with each passing year, it becomes more and more clear that the NHL is only really a big deal in Canada and select American markets. Sure, there are diehard fans in every NHL city, but with the constant issues in Arizona, consistently awful attendance in Florida and Carolina and a handful of franchises that really feel like they’ll never be more than middle-of-the-pack teams, it makes you wonder if the National Hockey League should be talking about contraction rather than expansion right about now?
Instead of Commissioner Gary Bettman looking at adding new teams to the mix, the league might benefit more from culling the current crop. As much as the NHL broadcast deal was a major story here in Canada and the dollar figure seems astronomical, it pales in comparison to the television deals the NFL and NBA have in place, so spreading that money around to fewer teams could – theoretically – help strengthen a few of those franchises that remain near the bottom of the hockey hierarchy.
Additionally, dispersing some of the talent from teams that could potentially be contracted to the more stable franchises in the league only makes the product on the ice better. Right now, it feels like Aaron Ekblad is going to waste the first five-to-seven seasons of his career playing for the Panthers when he’s the kind of superstar talent that should be a household name with hockey fans.
Unlike the NBA where franchise prices are rising steadily and the game is truly global, the value of NHL teams has peaked and outside of traditional hockey nations, the game doesn’t resonate, so the goal shouldn’t be to get bigger, but rather to get better.
Changing the overtime structure and clamping down on certain penalties aren’t the answer either. Sure, playing 3-on-3 in overtime will mean fewer shootouts and more wide open hockey in the extra frame, but it’s a gimmick that coaches will eventually learn to scheme around, just like they have everything else.
But cutting back the number of teams and disseminating players throughout the remaining franchises makes the competition greater and gives the league a chance to focus on bolstering strong markets, rather than having to prop up the Carolinas of the world.
This is where soccer gets it right with the relegation system – if you’re not good enough, you’re gone and you have to win your way back to playing with the big boys. If a team goes down, they sell off some of their best players, regroup and try again.
Something to consider in the wake of receiving Forbes’ annual reminder that the NHL just isn’t as big time as diehard hockey fans want it to be.