THE Winnipeg Jets aren't yet a playoff team but there's no question they're a payoff team.
A new study by Forbes magazine has valued the hockey club at $164 million, good for 24th in the NHL. That's a 21 per cent jump from a year ago when the team was still the Atlanta Thrashers and appraised at $135 million, 29th out of the 30-team league. (All figures are in U.S. dollars.)
No NHL team has seen its value increase faster in the last 12 months than the Jets. The league average was a five per cent hike.
"Winnipeg is a much more viable hockey market than Atlanta," said Mike Ozanian, executive editor at Forbes.
"They sold out their season tickets very quickly. (Winnipeg) isn't a big market flush with big corporations but those corporations that are there have responded well to support the team."
By comparison, the Thrashers sold just 73 per cent of their tickets last season, a figure many would argue flattered the team as a significant number of fans came disguised as empty seats at most home games.
Despite the Jets' appreciation in value, the team is still worth far less than the league average of $240 million. The Toronto Maple Leafs are once again the most valuable team in the league at $521 million, a three per cent increase from last year, followed by the New York Rangers at $507 million (up 10 per cent), and the Montreal Canadiens at $445 million (up nine per cent).
The Phoenix Coyotes, which were the original Winnipeg Jets until they left for the Arizona desert in 1996, have once again been pegged by Forbes as the least valuable team in the NHL at $134 million, the same price as a year ago.
The New Jersey Devils saw their value plummet by 17 per cent, the highest in the league, to $181 million.
The venerable business journal values teams based on multiples of their revenues. In most cases, the multiple is 2.5 to 3.5 times. The Jets, for example, have annual revenues of $71 million. The Leafs, by comparison, have revenues of $193 million.
Ozanian said the Jets are well-positioned financially for the short term because they have completely sold out their building for the next three years -- season-ticket holders are locked in for three, four or five years, depending on where they're sitting -- but the team can't survive on goodwill and pent-up euphoria forever.
"The key going forward will be whether they can maintain that support and can they put a good team on the ice. It will largely depend on the performance of the team. For it to maintain profitability, it has to be a playoff team," he said.
That could change, he noted, if commissioner Gary Bettman is able to lower the league's salary cap when the current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of this season. There is a fresh precedent for this, he noted, in the just-agreed-upon tentative deal between the NBA and its players.
Team value (millions of dollars) Percentage increase from a year ago
1 Toronto Maple Leafs 521 3
2 New York Rangers 507 10
3 Montreal Canadiens 445 9
4 Detroit Red Wings 336 7
5 Boston Bruins 325 8
6 Chicago Blackhawks 306 2
7 Vancouver Canucks 300 15
8 Philadelphia Flyers 290 -4
9 Pittsburgh Penguins 264 12
10 Los Angeles Kings 232 8
11 Dallas Stars 230 1
12 Washington Capitals 225 14
13 Calgary Flames 220 7
14 Minnesota Wild 213 5
15 Edmonton Oilers 212 16
16 San Jose Sharks 211 9
17 Ottawa Senators 201 3
18 Colorado Avalanche 198 0
19 Anaheim Ducks 184 -2
20 New Jersey Devils 181 -17
21 Tampa Bay Lightning 174 20
22 Buffalo Sabres 173 2
23 Carolina Hurricanes 169 4
24 Winnipeg Jets 164 21
25 Nashville Predators 163 10
26 Florida Panthers 162 -4
27 St. Louis Blues 157 -5
28 Columbus Blue Jackets 152 -1
29 New York Islanders 149 -1
30 Phoenix Coyotes 134 0
-- Source: Forbes magazine