With NBC’s broadcast agreement set to end following this season, recent discussion has revolved on which network will pick up the rights to broadcast the NHL in the U.S. moving forward. Yesterday news emerged that ESPN/ABC/Disney will be one of the rights-holders for the next seven years. That’s right, one of the rights-holders. It appears that another partner, yet to be announced, will also be broadcasting hockey action starting next season.
On Wednesday, details emerged in regards to the ESPN/NHL agreement and it looks like there will be a flood of options for fans to see the game, especially if they subscribe to Hulu/ESPN+. The basics:
- Four of the next seven Stanley Cup Finals will be broadcast on ABC
- Half of the playoff rounds each season will appear on ABC or ESPN
- There will be 25 exclusive regular season games on ABC and ESPN
- There will be 75 regular season games produced by ESPN that will stream on ESPN+
- Highlights broadcast across ESPN platforms
- More than 1,000 out-of-market games streamed through ESPN+
- Coverage of Opening Night, All-Star games, and other special events
The deal is reportedly worth $2.8 billion over the life of the seven-year deal which breaks down to roughly $400 million per season, a significant jump over what NBC was paying. With a portion of the rights still left to sign there will be more money coming in, something that has to be a relief to the owners.
If this was any other season, it would likely lead to a bump in the salary cap, but with the lost hockey revenues over the past two seasons, that isn’t likely to happen. It should, however, ease some of the escrow burden on the players starting next season.
The next to last item is interesting. The out of market games streaming through ESPN+ means that NHL.tv will no longer exist. It appears that the deal is good enough that the league bundled the streaming rights, something they had kept separate up until now, into the package with the TV rights.
It will be interesting to see where the NHL ranks among the other sports that the ESPN family currently broadcasting. Twenty-five games isn’t a lot when spread over an entire season so it will likely be a game of the week on ESPN or ABC wedged somewhere in between the college basketball, NFL, NBA, and poker. However, the exposure and cross-promotion will be good for the growth of the game.
Overall, not much will likely change in regards to the hockey viewing experience. Blackout restrictions will still apply. Figuring out exactly what channel or platform a game will be broadcast on will be a pain. Barry Melrose will be back in our lives on a daily basis. On the bright side, they are bringing back the NHL theme song that is lodged in the brains of those of us that were around in the 1990’s. Gary Thorne is open to the idea of returning.
All in all, it seems to be a pretty good deal for the NHL. We will update the story as more details emerge.