Sports Business Editor
The National Hockey League is returning to ESPN, the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader” in sports, after the two organizations agreed on a seven-year long broadcasting contract. The deal will start in the upcoming 2021-22 season, with the NHL’s current deal ending at the conclusion of the current season.
The last time ESPN broadcasted a NHL hockey game was over 17 years ago, and as such the landscape has changed a lot in that time span. While ESPN has remained among the top sources for live sports action, the way in which this action is delivered has been modernized. Many games are still available on the traditional ESPN set of television channels, as well as on ABC, ESPN’s sister network under the Disney umbrella. However, more and more live games are moving to streaming services, and this deal reflects that change. The contract states that there will be certain games available only on streaming platforms, in this case ESPN+ and Hulu. This represents the move to paid streaming services, as these games will not be able anywhere else and will require a subscription to the specific platform.
While restricting access to certain games may be a negative for some fans who still traditionally follow their teams on TV, it matches a larger trend in the market. For example, NBC’s streaming platform Peacock has exclusive rights to certain Premier League soccer games, and ESPN+ has similar deals with Serie A soccer in Italy and the Bundesliga in Germany. It is also expected that the NFL will soon be moving their Thursday night games to Amazon Prime’s streaming service, so it was just a matter of time for this to reach hockey.
Along with the exclusive streaming games, ESPN+ will also be the new home for out of market games that the league previously hosted on their NHL.TV platform.
One criticism hockey fans have had of ESPN was their lack of in-depth coverage of the sport ever since their broadcasting contract expired 17 seasons ago. This new contract could begin to rectify that, as it includes increased highlight rights that ESPN can use on their app as well as their social media channels. It also includes media rights internationally, all of which mean that ESPN has a great opportunity here to expand the NHL’s reach globally but also here in the US.
This contract gives ESPN the right to the “A” package of NHL coverage over the span of seven seasons and has been reported to cost $2.8 billion. The “A” package means while ESPN gets to host four of the next seven Stanley Cup Finals on top of everything else in the contract, there will be another company that also will get the rest of the Finals broadcasts along with other rights. This helps the league get the most money out of their product, with multiple partners competing at once. It has yet to be announced which other company will be purchasing the “B” package, but that can be expected soon now that the ESPN deal is finalized.
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