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.
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.