Dolan's Rangers Delighted Hockey Is Better Business Than You Know

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When bar talk comes to the National Hockey League, there's always a caveat.

It's a regional sport. It's a niche sport. Its popularity will never match that of North America's three major professional sports. And truth be told, all of those things are true.

What is also true as we enter a high-profile Stanley Cup finals between the L.A. Kings and New York Rangers, you might be able to make money off its mini-renaissance thanks to stocks that share in the televising and hosting of the playoffs.

During last year's labor dispute and subsequent lockout, it was widely considered a huge blow to a league desperate for some momentum. What's happened since the lockout ended has made people look somewhat foolish.

Attendance numbers are solid and the game is exciting. Instead of those brutal years when teams played not to lose in the postseason, teams are aggressive and scoring a lot more goals this spring. You have to go back 23 years to find a conference finals that had more goals than this year. In fact, goals-per-game averages are higher than in the regular season, which is a rarity.

On television, the game is strong as ever in Canada, and U.S. rights holder NBC and its parent Comcast (CMCSA) just saw the most-watched hockey game on the NBC Sports Network ... ever.

To make the investment connection, look at the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball as IBM (IBM), Exxon (XOM) and Apple (AAPL) -- big-caps with huge revenue and huge followings.

The NHL is a small-cap, and revenue growth nearly bears out the metaphor.

Revenue for this season -- expected at roughly $4 billion -- will be a double-digit increase over the previous full season of 2011-12 (last season was shortened by a labor lockout).

These revenue numbers are just for the NHL. There are also more than half a million players registered to USA Hockey, and that does not include coaches.

Translation: The NHL is proving it can grow and make money, and the game is bigger than you think in the United States. So, if you are bullish on hockey, tie down your shirt (hockey term; you can look it up), and here are some ways to invest.

There are some major names out there with some degree of leverage in the game of hockey. Nike (NKE) and Comcast are relatively obvious. It is a small component of each business, but since Comcast involves television the upside seems bigger and its exposure to the game is more dynamic.

Comcast heavily invested in hockey. It owns NBC Universal, which has domestic TV rights to the NHL. It also owns rights to the Olympics in the U.S., which uses men's hockey as one of its cornerstones of the Winter Games. 

In terms of numbers, it's a $135 billion behemoth with a small yield. Also, Comcast, at $52.25, is up nearly 28% in the last 52 weeks and has more than tripled since the 2009 stock market bottom.

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