ESPN Is Finally Looking To Bring Back The NHL

Hockey Blackhawks Stanley Cup

Photo: AP Images

ESPN is considering striking a television deal that would bring the NHL to the network for the first time since the lockout, MediaWeek reports.However, the network may have to fight off a challenge from a merged NBC-Comcast conglomerate.

Since emerging from said lockout in 2005, the NHL has been stuck on the Comcast-owned Versus, a network tucked away in the niche programming section of most cable providers. It was an agreement signed out of desperation as the league feared it would miss out on television revenue entirely when ESPN shunned it after the lockout.

Versus pays approximately $75 million for the 2010-2011 NHL rights, and the league earns more on a revenue-sharing deal it forged with NBC for a handful of second-half games. Not only are those contracts relatively small, but NBC wields a heavy “Original Six” bias, and Versus is lost somewhere between SOAPnet and Country Music Television on most programming guides. Neither is a great recipes for growth.

But the league is in a better place now than it was when it inked those TV deals. It will command a 50 per cent increase in its next television deal.

Though it could show some loyalty to the network that bailed hockey out six years ago, the NHL would experience further growth if it reached that deal with ESPN. Sports fans who tune in to ESPN by default would be inundated with more hockey coverage and potentially be converted to “the coolest game on earth.”

At the very least, they can expect more national coverage from either NBC or ESPN … and at better at terms.

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