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The NHL Is Returning To ESPN

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The National Hockey League is headed back to ESPN next season after new deal has been signed.

ESPN/NHL Contract

On March 10th, a historic seven-year deal was made between The Walt Disney Company, ESPN, and the National Hockey League. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stated that this is a “big win” because the NHL will not only “benefit from the incomparable power, reach and influence of The Walt Disney Company and ABC/ESPN, it sets a new standard in delivering our game to the most passionate and tech-savvy fans in sports in the ways they now demand and on the platforms they use.” (ESPN.com) This new television streaming and media rights deal will begin at the start of the 2021-22 season through the 2027-28 season. The New York Times reported that, “Financial terms were not announced, but according to two people familiar with the details, Disney will pay the N.H.L. an average of about $400 million annually.”

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet also tweeted the number could be a bit higher than that.

Over the course of the regular season, 25 games from the NHL schedule will be broadcasted live and exclusively on ABC or ESPN.

About three months after ESPN first hit the airwaves, the NHL made it’s first appearance on the network on December 19th, 1979. In 1986, it was the first U.S. network to produce an NHL All-Star Game. In 1992, following a four-year absence, the NHL returned and was instrumental in the expansion of ESPN2. ESPN held “National Hockey Night” games from 1992-2004 which increased the popularity of the sport. It was also during this time that NHL 2Night became a nightly staple and featured talents like John Bucigross, Ray Ferraro, Barry Melrose, Brian Engblom, Eddie Olczyk, and at one point current MSG 150 host Bill Pidto.

After the 2004-2005 lockout, ESPN lost the rights to show the league’s games. Once the lockout ended, the NHL had games on OLN(Outdoor Life Network), Versus, and eventually ended up with NBC gaining the rights for $200 million annually.

This new partnership will bring the NHL back to ESPN and Disney, allowing for exclusive coverage of the Stanley Cup Final on ABC in four of the seven years of the agreement, with the ability to simulcast on ESPN+ and additional ESPN networks. In each season of the agreement, live coverage of one Conference Final series and half of all First Round and Second Round games from the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be solely available on ABC or ESPN. There will also be annual coverage of the NHL All-Star Game and Skills Challenge, NHL’s Face-off (opening night games), plus other special NHL events. The NHL is currently working on finalizing a deal with another partner, and they would have the Cup Final in the other three years, in addition to some other games.

The Chairman of Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, Kareem Daniel, called the deal “innovative” and “a hat trick that delivers incredible value to our partner, our business and consumers.” (NHL.com) Since 2018, live daily out-of-market game coverage and the “In the Crease” daily original highlights show, hosted by ESPN’s Linda Cohn and Barry Melrose, have been carried on ESPN+. Formerly available on NHL.TV, fans with ESPN+ will be able to stream over 1,000 live NHL games per season. These games include 75 national games per season, which will be produced by ESPN and streamed exclusively on both ESPN+ and Hulu. The 75 games available to Hulu subscribers will be at no added cost as part of their subscription.

Financially, this deal is more beneficial for hockey fans because NHL.TV had cost about $150 annually whereas ESPN+ costs just $60 annually, with the option to bundle it with Disney+ and Hulu. Disney is launching “ESPN+ on Hulu” which allows for Hulu customers to sign up and access ESPN+ content on Hulu. Also included in the agreement are extensive highlight rights that will add to coverage across ESPN’s year-round news and highlights programming; as well as, coverage on the ESPN App and social media. Moreover, international media rights which include Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Europe, are part of the agreement too.

On March 26th, Disney+ is releasing “The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers,” an original series following a new group of young hockey players with Emilio Estevez reprising his role as Coach Gordon Bombay. In the coming months, The Walt Disney Company is expected to make announcements in regard to the live game broadcasts, studio, surround and original programming plans across all of their networks and streaming platforms.

One of these announcements includes a new NHL weekly studio show that will air during the season on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2. “We know the power of the NHL and are thrilled to welcome it back as a significant new pillar across our platforms,” said Chairman of ESPN and Sports Content, Jimmy Pitaro, “and we look forward to connecting more deeply and directly with some of the sports world’s most passionate fans.” (ESPN.com) Most importantly, the original iconic “National Hockey Night” theme song is going to make its big return!

With all of that said, how do you feel about the deal? Do you think the NHL made the right decision going with ESPN? Who do you think their other partner will be? How do you feel about the fact the Stephen A. Smith could potentially start “ranting” about the NHL?

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.