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ESPN Kicking Tires On NHL Television Rights

Nobody cares about hockey – except the networks willing to pay hundreds of millions in rights fees to televise the sport. According to Michael McCarthy and A.J. Perez of Front Office Sports, ESPN is interested in reacquiring NHL TV rights. 

In 2011, NBC and the NHL signed a 10-year contract worth $200 million annually, and even with a pandemic ravaging the sports industry of income and ratings, the league is still expecting a more lucrative deal. With their current contract set to expire after the 2020-21 season, an NBC Sports spokesperson told Front Office Sports they are interested in retaining those rights. 

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The NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman might look to split their broadcast rights, something the NFL, MLB and NBA all do. And according to the report from Front Office Sports, the NHL likely has the suitors to maximize rights fees, with ESPN, FOX Sports and CBS Sports having potential interest in adding professional hockey to their catalog. Even tech giants such as Amazon could provide a possible landing spot for a portion of the NHL’s broadcast rights. 

ESPN hasn’t aired a live NHL game since 2004. The 2004-05 season was erased by a lockout, and ESPN balked at picking up its option the next year. But The Worldwide Leader in Sports still employs Barry Melrose, Linda Cohn, Steve Levy and John Buccigross as the faces of its NHL coverage, who likely wouldn’t mind the acquisition of game rights. 

Since moving to a partnership with NBC Sports, the network has done plenty to help grow the NHL. The Winter Classic, Hockey Week in America and nationally televising every Stanley Cup playoff game has seen the NHL regain some popularity in the U.S. But that popularization is also what has other networks interested in acquiring NHL broadcast rights. 

Although NBC has been a great partner and advocate for the NHL, it’s unrealistic to expect that will buy them additional loyalty from the league. The NHL will, and should, have a business first mentality, looking to capitalize on the demand for live sports content.

Brandon Contes
Brandon Conteshttp://
Brandon Contes is a former reporter for BSM, now working for Awful Announcing. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonContes or reach him by email at [email protected].

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