The NHL and ESPN announced today that they have agreed to bring hockey back to the channel, and beyond with streaming involved as well. From a league press release:
The Walt Disney Company, ESPN and the National Hockey League 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 visionary, first-of-its-kind agreement brings the NHL back to Disney and ESPN platforms and illustrates the unique position of The Walt Disney Company to bring the best hockey in the world to millions across its unparalleled collection of media platforms.
It is highlighted by: exclusive coverage of the Stanley Cup Final 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.
Additionally, the NHL’s out-of-market streaming package, with more than 1,000 games (formerly on NHL.TV), will now be available for fans to stream only as part of an ESPN+ subscription.
The agreement 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.
“This partnership of the world’s top hockey league and the platforms of The Walt Disney Company is a big win for our fans and our game,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Not only will this groundbreaking, seven-year deal enable the NHL to 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 has not had rights to hockey games since 2004, after the 2004-05 season lockout the league has signed with NBC as their sole broadcast provider. The current deal was paying the league $200 million per year, terms of the ESPN arrangement have not been made.
The NHL did not announce ESPN as the exclusive TV partner, and it is believed the league will try to split their broadcast deals which could mean an agreement with NBC as well. That could be up in the air, as it looks like NBC is rebranding a bit and shutting down their NBC Sports channel later on in 2021.
Getting back on ESPN should be great for the NHL. Hockey is often marginalized or ignored by “The Worldwide Leader in Sports”, and understandably so being as they have not been televising games on their networks for the last 15+ years, giving them no incentive or reason to put much of a spotlight on a sport and league they aren’t involved in. That will change and should be a positive thing for the game in general to be exposed to more people and a wider crowd of sports fans.
The other big part of this deal, on the surface at least, is the streaming aspect. The ESPN+ service will become very important for all out-of-market fans. Live sports on services like Hulu seem a bit foreign right now, but if you’re a soccer (EPL) fan in America, you’re getting used to games on NBC’s Peacock streaming service. That could be whether you would like to or not, being as some major games aren’t being broadcast on traditional television channels and only available streaming.
The technological world is morphing more and more towards that kind of streaming/digital platform, and the NHL will be taking that next step for most of the 2020’s with an old partner. And, apparently, an old familiar song will be there as we go into the brave new future: