The National Hockey League has long been viewed as a stepchild looking for an adoptive cable home. Not anymore.
Gary Bettman announced in an early afternoon conference call Tuesday the NHL agreed to a 10-year partnership with NBC Universal. Sports Business Daily reported that the deal could be worth more than $2 billion. Sports Business Daily also noted that Fox and Turner backed out of the negotiations in recent days, while ESPN could not match NBC’s offer.
“We are staying in business together for the next 10 years,” Bettman said. “We could not have had better partners than NBC and Versus.
“It has brought us to the point to the point where we are looking at the most significant media deal that this league has ever been able to participate in.”
The agreement, which runs through the 2020-21 season, calls for NBC and Versus to broadcast 100 regular season games including national telecasts of Black Friday games and national broadcasts of all Stanley Cup playoff games. Moreover, NBC will broadcast its Game of the Week, the Winter Classic and Hockey Day in America, while Versus will air its own Game of the Week, along with the Premiere Games, All-Star Games, future Heritage Classics and NHL Faceoff.
“Every single playoff game is going to be seen on NBC cable, VERSUS, the NBC television network, or in cases that we’ll talk about in a little while, other NBC channels,” Dick Ebersol, the Chairman of NBC Sports Group, said. “You have 28 potential games in the second round, 24 of them are going to be exclusively on national cable. The third round, if you have a maximum of two seven games series, 12 of them will be on Versus (and) two on NBC. And then, the Stanley Cup Final, seven games, five will be on NBC and two will be on Versus.”
Ebersol hinted during the call that USA Network, CNBC and Telemundo, amongst NBC Universal’s “20 unique channels” could carry games as well. Most importantly for a league that believes it is in tune with changing technologies, NBC Universal will broadcast games on its digital — read: Internet— platforms.
An oft-repeated criticism of the league post-lockout was its inability to work out a broadcast deal with ESPN. The sports network walked away from its contract with the NHL following the work stoppage. In the years since the NHL and Versus merged, there have been loud complaints about the quality of broadcasts, a lack of a lead-in and wrap-up shows, and most distressingly, non-televised playoff games.
Versus has expanded its ‘Hockey Central’ intermission segments into a half hour nightly preview prior to end of the regular season, and created NHL Overtime, a post-game wrap-up show.
The arguments for a broadcast contract with ESPN is that games and pre-and-post game wrap up shows could be aired on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN News. Finally, ESPN is a cable monolith and the belief is the cachet in being in business with them could raise the NHL’s status in the eyes of the public.
“I think everybody has enormous respect for ESPN, but six years ago we chose to go in a different direction for a variety of reasons, and we believe it’s worked out well for us. And the promise of what NBC Universal/Comcast I think is extraordinarily exciting. You’ve heard Dick talk about the plans and the focus. This for us is a great place to be,” Bettman said when asked about ESPN. “I think it’s a big world, and there are a lot of things out there, and I think this collaboration will have a very prominent place in that world.”