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NHL is going to Turner on new broadcast deal

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Hockey on TNT, including the Winter Classic

Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Just last week we took a dive into what looked like a potential impending dissolution of the NHL and NBC broadcast relationship. It’s now official, as the NHL has announced that thaty have reached an agreement with Turner (TNT Network) to be a rights holder starting in the 2021-22 season.

From a league press release:

Turner Sports, a division of WarnerMedia, and the National Hockey League have reached a multi-faceted, seven-year agreement set to begin with the 2021-22 season, it was announced today by Jeff Zucker, Chairman, WarnerMedia News & Sports, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. This historic multimedia rights agreement will bring the Stanley Cup Final and Stanley Cup Playoffs to TNT and TBS for the first time, along with providing Turner Sports rights to up to 72 regular season games and the NHL Winter Classic each season.

The multi-year agreement is highlighted by TNT crowning a champion through its exclusive live coverage of the Stanley Cup Final in three of the seven years; half of the Stanley Cup Playoffs each year (half of the Conference Finals, First and Second Round games); and rights to up to 72 exclusive national regular season games each season. Additionally, TNT will exclusively present the NHL Winter Classic each year, among other live events. Live game and studio coverage details, along with programming plans, will be announced in the months ahead.

“This agreement with the National Hockey League brings one of the most prestigious championships in sports to TNT and fuels our entire Turner Sports and Bleacher Report portfolio with even more premium content for many years to come,” said Zucker. “We’re delighted to spotlight the world’s best hockey league on our leading networks, while continuing to further elevate this marquee property through an ever-expanding array of digital platforms in the years to come.”

“Turner Sports is known for its outstanding sports coverage, quality and innovation and we are thrilled that this new partnership will provide our fans with the content they love on the platforms and devices of their choice,” said Commissioner Bettman. “TNT is a proven and acclaimed destination for sports fans and we will also benefit from the deep connection Bleacher Report has with young digital-savvy fans. Having WarnerMedia join the NHL family as co-rightsholders for the next seven years gives us incredible reach, positions us well for the future as the media landscape continues to evolve, and will fuel continued growth for the NHL and our Clubs.”

The multimedia agreement between Turner Sports and the National Hockey League includes live streaming and digital rights across WarnerMedia – including HBO Max – and a wide spectrum of screens and platforms such as mobile, web, tablets and connected devices.

Digital Innovation:

Live streaming and simulcast rights for HBO Max;

Turner Sports will have TV Everywhere rights that will allow its networks to make its NHL games and related programming available to authenticated subscribers across all WarnerMedia platforms;

Expansive digital and highlight rights for Bleacher Report;

Through its transformative partnership with the NHL, Turner Sports and Bleacher Report will have the ability to create ancillary programming, events and bespoke digital experiences for the next generation of hockey fans.

The league also has a multi-year deal with ESPN (Disney) to give them a national rights package starting next season as well. The existing relationship with NBC, which has been the broadcast home of the NHL since 2005 will be over with this summer’s Stanley Cup Final.

Whether this is good, bad or indifferent for hockey fans in America remains to be seen. TV companies are paying the NHL big bucks, which is good for the sport, but possibly a hassle for the viewer being as you will need to subscribe to a cable package with TNT, ESPN, ESPN2 and/or also in the future likely have access to streaming services like ESPN+ and HBO Max to watch hockey legally in America.

The presentation will be a change too. TNT and ESPN are familiar partners as both broadcast the NBA. TNT’s NBA coverage, in particular, features Hall of Fame level studio cohosts like Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith as larger-than-life personalities who cover the sport broadly.

The NBC presentation for hockey was often very technical and in the weeds, traditionally with analysts like Keith Jones and the semi-recently removed Mike Milbury who weren’t stars and offered up stodgier talking points (“which leader will push his team to a win” or “which heart and soul grinder will step up tonight?”). TNT/ESPN NBA coverage tends to be a little more casual.

The NHL gets a win in that what was netting them ~$200-300 million per year in the US national rates is up significantly by having this new and more complex group of partnerships with multiple broadcast partners. Where hockey has been simple to find for a while, the increased number of avenues and platforms to watch games will change, especially as the landscape morphs into a more digital and streaming world. The NHL will enter that world and the 2020’s in full starting this fall.