NHL owners settled their lockout of the players in January, salvaging a 48-game season. The biggest financial upshot of the new collective bargaining agreement was reducing the overall percentage of revenues going to the players from 57% of 50%. The NBA and NFL also significantly slashed the cut of revenues going to players in recent years in their new CBAs. In both basketball and football, the fallout was the same: stars still got paid massive sums, while the middle class got squeezed. Expect the same in hockey, as owners break the bank to secure those players that can fill arena seats and drive TV ratings.
Sidney Crosby earns $12 million in salary this season from the Pittsburgh Penguins. It is the not the biggest salary in the game, but Sid the Kid remains the NHL’s most marketable player resulting in endorsement and memorabilia income of $4.5 million. His total earnings, including off-ice income, of $16.5 million makes Crosby the NHL’s highest-paid player.
Injuries have hampered Crosby in recent years, but the Pens committed $104 million last year as part of a 12-year contract extension, which kicks off this season. His deal with Reebok is the largest endorsement agreement in hockey. Other partners include Bell, Gatorade, Tim Hortons and Frameworth for memorabilia. Crosby is also in hot demand as the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics approach. He scored the game-winning goal in overtime for Team Canada in the gold medal game against the U.S. in 2010 in Vancouver. It further cemented his status as a hero in Canada. Crosby and his agent are weighing a myriad of marketing opportunities for Sochi, but have not signed anything yet.
One NHL star who has capitalized on the Sochi Olympics is Alexander Ovechkin, who inked an extension with Gillette and a lucrative new deal with Coca-Cola. Both brands plan to use Ovi in their Olympic marketing plans, as does Nike. The three-time MVP was born in Russia and is wildly popular back home. He was the first Russian and second person overall to carry the Olympic torch in its journey from Greece to Sochi (the torch relay is sponsored by Coca-Cola). Ovechkin’s estimated annual endorsement income of $3.5 million trails only Crosby among NHL players. His total income of $12.5 million, including his $9 million salary with the Washington Capitals, ranks No. 4 among all players.
Crosby and Ovechkin are among a very small group of players that earn $1 million off the ice. The rest of the NHL relies on their playing contracts for nearly all of their incomes. The 10 highest-paid players derived 90% of their earnings from playing salaries and the ratio is even higher for the rest of the league. Take Shea Weber, who has the NHL’s highest salary this season at $14 million, but does almost nothing off the ice endorsement-wise. He is hampered by playing in small market Nashville, which is hardly a hockey hotbed. But Weber signed a front-loaded $110 million, 14-year contract with the Predators before the 2012-13 season. The deal pays $14 million in each of the first four years. The agreement for the Nashville captain came after the Philadelphia Flyers signed Weber to a $110 million offer sheet in July 2012. The Predators had seven days to match the deal, which they eventually did.
The Weber deal was one of the last of its kind. NHL owners made a big push in the new CBA to eliminate decade-long playing contracts, which could severely hamper an organization as a player’s skills declined. The new CBA puts a limit of eight years on any new deals and seven years for free agents switching teams.
Zach Parise ranks third overall with total earnings of $12.8 million. Parise signed a $98 million, 13-year deal with the Minnesota Wild in July 2012 after seven seasons with the New Jersey Devils. The agreement pays $12 million this season. Parise's move from New Jersey to Minnesota boosted his endorsement portfolio. He is on the short list of potential captains of Team USA at the Sochi Olympics (he was an alternate captain in 2010 in Vancouver), and he nabbed a handful of new deals leading up to the Games, including Polo Ralph Lauren, Chobani and Got chocolate milk. His off-ice income is estimated at $800,000.
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Hockey players are still paid relatively little compared to the stars in other sports. Our most recent look at the world’s 100 highest-paid athletes, based on earnings over the 12 months ending in June 2013, featured athletes from 11 different sports. But not one hockey player made the cut where the minimum was $16.4 million. It was the same story in 2011. The entry level is likely heading higher in 2014, but for the first time in years, an NHL player has a chance to rank among the top 100 in Crosby.
Full Coverage: The Business Of Hockey 2013 More on Forbes:
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- Ice Hockey
- Sidney Crosby