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What We Learned From NCHC Year in Review

Matt Christians

Yesterday, the NCHC sent out a "Year in Review" document, profiling the past year for the league. Most of it was a recitation of the league's accomplishments throughout the past year both on and off the ice, but it did contain some interesting tidbits, especially in regards to the financial aspects of the league.

Here are six things we learned from reading the document:

1. 3-on-3 OT worked

The NCHC was the first conference to try 3-on-3 overtime last season, and it largely achieved its' goal of deciding a winner without having to resort to a shootout. Five of the six games not decided by the end of the five-minute 5-on-5 OT were then decided in the five-minute 3-on-3 overtime.

2. NCHC.tv was a success

The league made almost $250,000 from their streaming deal on NCHC.tv last year, up about 28% from the $196,000 they made last year. After operating costs, about 87% of that was redistributed back to member schools, meaning each school took home about $27,000 from streaming.

That number is expected to go up next year as well, with the ability to stream NCHC.tv on Roku and AppleTV devices.

That $27,000 is a nice chunk of change, but it's also the only money being distributed back to the member schools. With the increased travel costs of this conference set-up, it's easy to see why some conference members, especially the schools in the east, might be frustrated. A few shorter bus trips could very easily make up that difference and then some for those schools.

3. There's no money in television

Noticeably absent from the list of revenue streams was money from the league's television contract with CBS Sports Network. If anything, it is likely costing the league some money to be on television a few times per year. CBSSN picked up the option for another year of the contract, but for something that was supposed to be a cornerstone of the conference, it's been very underwhelming.

The document does claim that being on CBSSN meant they were the only men's conference championship on a "national" television network. I'm not sure how narrow you have to draw that definition for CBSSN to count as "national" but NBC Sports Network to not. Not to mention Big Ten Network and Fox Sports North, which perhaps aren't truly "national," but are certainly more widely watched among college hockey fans.

4. Media went to the Frozen Faceoff

The league said they had their highest media attendance for the Frozen Faceoff with over 100 media members credentialed. That's significant because it came in a year when the Big Ten was hosting their tournament across town.

5. Conference Tournament Revenues

With the WCHA and the Big Ten making the move to a more logical home ice-based playoff system, attention turned to the NCHC to see if they will continue hosting a neutral venue final tournament.

The league only provided revenues brought in from their conference playoffs without providing expenses, so it's tough to draw many conclusions. The league said they drew $1.2 million in revenue from the tournament, with the money coming from a 50/50 split between the first round and the Frozen Faceoff.

The question then becomes, if four home playoff series bring in the same revenue as one weekend at the Target Center, what is the cost difference between those games and renting out the Target Center? Switching to a full home ice format would add three more series(we'll count the one-game championship as a full series due to added interest), so there's theoretically 25% less revenue, but the costs could potentially be much lower.

Of course, there are a million other factors that could push the numbers one way or the other depending on which teams would be hosting playoff series, and which teams would make it to the Target Center.

And that's just looking at the financial aspect of that decision. There's potentially some hidden cost in hosting a conference tournament that half of the teams in your league will never send more than a dozen fans to as well.

It doesn't seem like a slam dunk decision either way, so it will be interesting to see which direction the league heads in two years when their contract with the Target Center is up.

6. They're making money, but not a lot

Again, it's impossible to say anything definitively without seeing expenses, but there's enough information to sort of triangulate a guess.

The league has reported turning a profit all three years, though rather than distributing the surplus back to teams, they have opted to put it into a reserve account with the goal of reaching one year's worth of operating expenses.

We know the league's operating expenses are somewhere south of $1.2 million, which they made in revenue this year, but not so small that the net profit adds up to more than X/3 where X is one year of operating expenses. Presumably, once the league reaches that goal of one year of operating expenses in reserve, that annual surplus money will start being distributed back to the teams, but once that money gets split up eight(or more, if Arizona State and/or somebody else joins the fold) ways, you're likely looking at a figure similar to the NCHC.tv money, which is nice, but mostly being eaten up by flying out to Colorado instead of busing to the Upper Peninsula for some schools in the league.

The bottom line is that the league is healthy financially, but for a league that positioned itself in the most advantageous situation possible(i.e. not flying to Alaska), there's a bit of a feeling of "...that's it?" There seems to be no reason 18 teams in the west couldn't be making the same bit of money from their league with a more logical set-up, as opposed to just the eight that currently are.