ESPN Looking At Upcoming TV Deal
Guess who wants back in the game?
The most famous four letters in all of sports, ESPN is apparently eyeing a return to the National Hockey League.
It goes without saying this would be positive news for both the fans and the league, in this case everybody’s a winner. The NHL game has never been better. The league is filled with young stars who can sell the game. More importantly there are good teams in big markets. Last season Chicago and Philadelphia made it to the Stanley Cup finals and cities such as Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh all have competitive teams with lots of star power. A Carolina, Edmonton matchup in the Cup finals is a tough sell in the States.
The current agreement the league has with Versus and NBC expires at the end of this season. Versus has come a long way since getting into the game back in 2005 and I think they do a great job. The major issue has always been their lack of availability, comparatively speaking, in bars and especially hotels throughout the country.
There’s Room for Everybody
If done properly Versus and NBC would benefit by sharing games with ESPN. Comcast, who owns Versus, is currently in the process of taking over NBC which will see the two networks working under the same umbrella similar to what we have with ESPN and ABC. As I recently wrote there is a strong chance Versus changes its name and takes on the NBC brand. Many believe this would give Versus more credibility as a sports channel.
The last thing Versus wants to lose is the NHL. They will be desperate to keep hockey which has quickly become the identity of the network.
In reality NBC has little interest outside of the major events. The outdoor game on January first has become a huge success and NBC has every intention of keeping it. The Stanley Cup Finals are certainly attractive to NBC but not nearly to the extent of the outdoor game. There have been times where NBC refused to carry NHL playoffs games during the “Sweeps” (Ratings) period and shoved games over to Versus.
ESPN is no different, they aren’t nearly as interested in broadcasting regular season games as they are in the Stanley Cup playoffs, specifically the Finals. Prior to January first ESPN has plenty of programming with NCAA football and the NFL in full swing. There is a window in May and June where the sports calendar slows down and ESPN would be in position to give the NHL plenty of love.
There are a few options for ESPN. There’s been some discussion of revamping ESPN Classic into an ESPN 3 channel. That would give the network plenty of options to broadcast games with ESPN and ESPN 2 already established.
It comes down to how the NHL wants to slice it up. My sources tell me ESPN does not object to going to an NBA like format where games are broadcast on a variety of networks including ESPN, ABC, as well as TNT.
I’m not sure why Versus or NBC would object to this. If anything, Versus should want ESPN to come on board when you see how much money they make. The next television deal is a huge aspect of the upcoming CBA. A strong T.V. deal could solve a number of financial ills and make some of the current cap issues easier to solve.
In order for ESPN to jump back in it has to make sense for them. I’m not suggesting the NHL should just bend over backwards here but ESPN has little interest in broadcasting games on a Tuesday night. If ESPN doesn’t get the Stanley Cup Finals, the NHL won’t get ESPN.
It’s not just Barry Melrose, John Buccigross, and Pierre Lebrun that like hockey over at ESPN. I’m told a number of people at the management level genuinely like the sport. There are current deadlines in place and we’ll know before the end of the season whether or not ESPN is back on board. Behind the scenes the players as well as the league quietly want NHL hockey back on the television superpower.
More to come,
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