Subban Works SportsCenter as NHL Analyst

PK Subban, Devils’ defenseman and 2021 finalist for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, has found an offseason gig.

The affable blueliner made his ESPN SportsCenter debut last Wednesday as a NHL analyst for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He will work for ESPN through the end of the playoffs.

The press release put out by the NHL notes that ABC and ESPN, along with “Turner Sports will take over national coverage of the NHL in the United States beginning next season, each signing a seven-year contract. The Stanley Cup Final will alternate between ABC and TNT, televised on ABC in 2022, 2024, 2026 and 2028, and on TNT in 2023, 2025 and 2027.”

In addition, the networks of Disney, “ABC and ESPN will televise 25 exclusive regular-season games each season. TNT and TBS will televise 72, including the NHL Winter Classic, the annual outdoor showcase on New Year’s Day.” ESPN will also “produce 75 national broadcasts each season and stream them on ESPN+ and Hulu, and stream more than 1,000 games each season on ESPN+.”

We have not really touched on the new broadcast contracts here on the blog, but it was confirmed back in May that Wayne Gretzky will be working as a studio analyst on the Turner broadcasts. While not really known as a “big” personality like Subban, Gretzky at least has credentials to his name. What he lacks in charisma, the “Great One” more than makes up for in name value. Even the most casual of hockey fans has heard of Wayne Gretzky. Whether that translates to “must see TV” remains to be seen, but Turner is at least trying to reel in eyeballs to their broadcasts by going for the big names.

Just don’t expect Charles Barkley or Shaq in terms of entertainment value.

Subban’s broadcasting spot on SportsCenter is an early preview of the synergy that the NHL and ESPN/Disney and Turner Sports will be able to provide. Hopefully that will continue and the networks will get bored with the league after a few seasons.

When his playing days are over, no one would make as good a TV personality as Subban. He is a likeable man and can give insight into what is going on on the ice. I can see nobody in the game today who would make a better analyst when he retires.

If Mike Babcock can get a job doing analysis on NBC, with his wooden delivery, then I see no reason to doubt that Subban can do well.

The aforementioned Barkley is a known hockey enthusiast. Shaq has even been honored by the Devils, being a native of Newark. That should help to connect the NHL and NBA, Turner’s main sports properties.

How the networks use their resources will, of course, decide how good the broadcasts are.

NHL, Disney Reach Deal on TV Rights

As we have found out, NBC Sports Group will be scaling down come the end of the year. They are shuttering NBCSN and moving National Hockey League broadcasts to sister station USA Network on Wednesday nights.

That kind of left the NHL in a lurch in terms of their United States television rights.

Enter Disney.

According to a press release put out by the NHL today, the NHL and the Walt Disney Company and ESPN have reached a “historic and innovative seven-year television, streaming and media rights deal, taking the new partnership from the beginning of the 2021-22 season through the 2027-28 season.”

The NHL had previously been broadcast on ESPN in the early-mid 80s until SportsChannel America took over the deal and from the early 90s until the late 2000s when NBC took over as exclusive TV platform for the NHL. ESPN did broadcast the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, an NHL-sponsored event, as well.

The press release says that “the visionary, first-of-its-kind agreement brings the NHL back to Disney and ESPN platforms and illustrates the unique position if The Walt Disney Company to bring the best hockey in the world to millions across its unparalleled collection of media platforms.”

According to the agreement, the Stanley Cup Final will be broadcast “on ABC in four of the seven years of the agreement, with the ability to simulcast / megacast on ESPN + and additional ESPN networks; the return of live NHL action to ESPN networks with 25 exclusive national regular-season games on ABC or ESPN; 75 national regular-season games per season produced by ESPN that will stream exclusively on both ESPN + and Hulu; half of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on ABC and ESPN each season; and coverage annually of NHL’s Face-off (opening night games), the NHL All-Star Game and Skills Challenge, plus other NHL special events each season.”

The presser also notes that “the NHL’s out-of-market streaming package, with more than 1,000 (formerly on NHL.TV), will now be available for fans to stream only as part of an ESPN+ subscription.”

The deal “also includes extensive highlight rights that will add to coverage across ESPN’s year-round news and highlights programming, and to coverage on the ESPN App and social media. International media rights – including in Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Europe – are also part of the agreement.”

There is also mention of “a new weekly studio show during the NHL season on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.

This is all fantastic news. Towards the end, NBC did not seem to be too interested in promoting the NHL. They were getting lazy in their programming. How many times (as a neutral fan) can you watch Capitals-Penguins before your head begins to explode.

With ESPN and the power of Disney behind them, the NHL will be exposed more now than ever.

ESPN was hurting for some content at certain times of the day (they do still have the NBA rights and about a million fantasy football shows), the NHL needed a new broadcast partner, this is really a good match.

Plus, if it means the return of the “ESPN National Hockey Night” theme, I’m all in! That song means a lot to American hockey fans of a certain vintage and it would be great to hear it again.

In addition, the sheer promotional powers at the hands of the Disney company are almost infinite. If Disney decides to get behind something, they have so many outlets to advertise it and get it out there.