There was a time, when Sports Illustrated was unquestionably the outlet of importance in the sporting world, where the magazine ran a cover about hockey’s rise in the national consciousness, contrasted with basketball’s decline. It wasn’t 50 years ago either, it was written in the mid-1990s, right after the Rangers won their Cup in ’94, and just before the puck really went dead for an era.
In the years since, we’ve seen what’s happened with the two leagues. Hockey entered a rough patch where the goals dried up and the labour disputes became frequent and public, while interest in the NBA grew.
Still, the NHL mostly kept pace. With similar schedules and attendance, revenues were close enough that the two salary-capped leagues offered comparable amounts of money to their players as recently as five years ago. Granted, the NBA has much smaller rosters, so that helped their individual players, but the point remains the same. In 2014-15 the NBA’s salary cap was set at under $63.1 million. The NHL’s was $64.3 million. The years prior were close, too.
Five years later and in 2019-20 the NHL’s salary cap rose to $81.5 million, while the NBA’s hit $109,140,000, approaching $30 million dollars difference. That was thanks in large part to a huge TV deal where the NBA earns massive amounts of money beyond what the NHL sees.
Hockey’s US TV deal is up this summer, but here’s the summary of the state of affairs as of today from the Wikipedia entry on sports broadcasting contracts in the USA: “In 2014, the NBA signed a nine-year television deal with ABC/ESPN and TNT that generates annual league TV revenues of $2.66 billion beginning with the 2016–17 season, while the NHL earns $200 million annually from a 10-year contract signed with NBC Sports in 2011 that runs through the 2020–21 season.”