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Cable Technology Feature Article

April 19, 2011

The NHL Spurns ESPN, Fox, Stays with NBC/VERSUS

By David Sims, TMCnet Contributing Editor

Sometimes written off as a bit player in the North American sports TV market, the National Hockey League has scored a goal with their latest television and media deal.

"This is the most significant U.S. media rights partnership in the League's history," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

The NHL and NBC Sports Group “have announced a new 10-year television and media rights deal, which runs through the 2020-21 season. NBC remains the exclusive network home and Versus the exclusive cable home of the NHL in the United States,” reported the Charlotte News-Observer.

ESPN (News - Alert) reported  that The NHL “had drawn interest from ESPN, Turner and Fox Sports, but decided to stay where it has been for the past six years since the end of the season-long lockout.” Bettman said the NHL appreciated the interest from other suitors: “It's nice to go out and find out you're pretty."

Pretty, maybe, but not the belle of the ball. The Wall Street Journal reports that the NHL's U.S. TV audience “is still a fraction of the audience for other major sports,” and that “the league has struggled to regain the high profile it had in the 1980s. It canceled its 2004-2005 season after a protracted labor dispute, and some of its clubs filed for bankruptcy protection.”

Dick Ebersol, chairman, NBC Sports Group, said there will be a "significant increase in regular season games,” and that “every single playoff game will air on an NBC Sports Group platform.”

For NFL and NBA fans, used to being able to see all playoff games, it might seem strange that this is just now happening for the NHL. “For the first time, the Conference Semifinal round will be exclusive on VERSUS with a 200 percent increase in games. In the regular season, we're increasing VERSUS' coverage from roughly 50 to 90 games.,” the News-Observer reported.        

There’s no denying the NHL has done well with the old deal: According to ESPN, “overall NHL television ratings in the United States increased by 84 percent over the last four years, and this year's Winter Classic was the most-watched regular season hockey game in the U.S. in 36 years.”

David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of David’s articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for TMCnet here.

Edited by Rich Steeves