Thoughts on the ESPN/NHL contract details

It was reported last night that the NHL would be returning to ESPN on a seven year TV deal. Today that deal was finalized and the details released. It is not just a TV deal. The deal includes exclusive streaming right on ESPN+, which NHL.tv fading into oblivion. Here are the key details of the NHL/ESPN contract:

  • The deal is seven years long, with non-exclusive TV rights and exclusive streaming rights.
  • ESPN+ and Hulu will essentially function as NHL.tv, with the latter being removed. ESPN+ is about $5 a month, so this is a cheaper option for fans. The bundle for all three (including Disney+) is about $13 a month. Still cheaper than NHL.tv.
  • 75 regular season games will stream exclusively on ESPN+ and Hulu. A team cannot be featured more than eight times per season. This is an interesting point to monitor.
  • ESPN will get 25 exclusive regular season games for ABC and/or ESPN.
  • Exclusive coverage of four of the seven Stanley Cup Finals throughout the life of the deal.
  • ESPN and ABC will cover half of the NHL Playoffs each season.

Streaming Deal

A major contract detail is the exclusive NHL streaming rights for ESPN. This is mostly a win for everyone. NHL.tv is expensive, unreliable, and you’re only paying for one sport. By moving to ESPN+, fans get a cheaper deal if they just want hockey. They also get the backing of ESPN, ABC, and Disney, which is much better than whatever product the NHL was putting out there.

For the NHL, they instantly open themselves up to 12.1 million subscribers on ESPN+ (and 39.4 million on Hulu), and that’s not including the current NHL.tv subscriptions that will come over to ESPN+. Remember it’s cheaper than NHL.tv, so it’s highly unlikely that those with NHL.tv won’t go to ESPN+. This is a huge step in growing the game, something the league has struggled mightily with. For me, I already have the Disney+ bundle, so I don’t even need to do anything.

For Disney, they get the exclusive streaming rights to hockey, which is huge. They will get an influx of subscribers just for the NHL. Even if it’s just a 10% increase (1.2 million people), that’s $6 million a month. All three parties win here.

Except for that one major potential issue that will rub everyone the wrong way. Those 75 exclusive games on ESPN+ and Hulu. If, and this is an if, the regional networks are not able to broadcast those games, there are going to be many pissed off fans.

Also keep an eye on the international fans. ESPN+ is US only. There’s no way both sides would let something like this slip through the cracks though.

TV Deal

The TV deal is not exclusive to ESPN, which is a major detail in the NHL contract, and a huge win. The league will have at least one other network, likely NBC, getting the rest of the national games. There’s also a chance of a wild card like FOX, or both. This is maximizing the NHL’s exposure across multiple, easy to find networks. Remember the good old days of trying to figure out what channel the Outdoor Life Network was?

ESPN and/or ABC will get 25 games a year, which is about one a week in a normal NHL season. The league will get the full ESPN treatment, which means the hype engine across multiple networks. It’s safe to assume that since the network will have such a vested interest in the league’s popularity, it will get the full Sportscenter treatment as well, as the deal includes a “full highlight

The NHL has by far the best playoffs, so ESPN getting half the playoffs will be a major win across the board. Most people today don’t know what channel NBCSN is. Everyone knows what channel ESPN is, and ABC.

The kicker: We may actually get Gary Thorne, Bill Clement, and Steve Levy covering games. That’s the dream team right there. Linda Cohn currently has an ESPN+ show with *sigh* Barry Melrose as well. Give me Linda with the pregame and the dream team covering games. Just keep Melrose and John Buccigross on the sidelines.