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THE NHL, FOX AND ESPN UNVEIL THEIR "YOUTH MOVEMENT"
Published September 14, 1994
Officials from the NHL, Fox Broadcasting, ESPN, Anheuser- Busch and Nike gathered yesterday to officially announce the league's new broadcast TV deal with Fox and an extension of its cable deal with ESPN. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman cited demographics as a key factor, declaring that hockey "is a perfect match for Fox's younger, hipper audience": "Fox is strong in the 18-34 age group and that's where we are strongest as well. That is where the future of our game lies" (Rob Longley, TORONTO SUN, 9/14). DETAILS: Fox's premier telecast will the All-Star Game in San Jose on January 21. Fox will have exclusive rights to the final two Sundays of the regular season and playoff games, including a minimum of two Stanley Cup finals games and any Game 7 finals match-up. In addition to about 100 regular season games on ESPN and ESPN2, the cable net will have exclusive rights to Games 2, 3, 5, and 6 of the finals and up to 12 games of the conference finals. Fox will reportedly pay $155M; ESPN's deal is said to be worth $65M. KEEPING THE REGIONALS HAPPY: "Less pleased" with the deal will be regional cable networks and local outlets that carry the NHL. With Fox aboard and ESPN's new exclusivities, "they will have fewer games to produce and sell." MSG Network President Doug Moss: "It's disappointing. But I understand that Bettman is taking the league where everyone else is going. ... It's great for hockey. Great for the Rangers. Not so great for MSG" (Richard Sandomir, N.Y. TIMES, 9/14). Bettman: "If we increase the fan base for NHL hockey, more people are going to become interested in the vast bulk of games carried on the regional networks" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/14). FOX SAYS "TOUGH" TO OTHER NETS: Fox Sports President David Hill, asked about concerns from other nets that Fox "doesn't share their concern about making sure a sports deal is profitable": "What do I say to them? I say that's tough" (Bob Raissman, N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/14). Rudy Martzke asks about Fox: "Can Wimbledon and baseball be far behind?" (USA TODAY, 9/14). In Baltimore, Milton Kent also sees Wimbledon and the 2000 Olympics in Sydney as potential properties Fox could bid for (Baltimore SUN, 9/14). MARKETING PARTNERS: NHL Senior VP & COO Stephen Solomon credited Anheuser-Busch and Nike for signing on as marketing partners before they knew what network the NHL would be on or what the schedule would be. Anheuser-Busch VP for Corporate Media & Sports Marketing Tony Ponturo noted that A-B saw the NHL as a great way to prevent new product "Ice Draft" from experiencing a "sophomore jinx" (THE DAILY, 9/14). Ponturo: "Hockey, with access to customers aged 21-34, is where we want to be" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/14). Nike Dir of League Relations Doug Stamm cited the "breadth of the sponsorship package" and the "perfect fit" between his company and Fox. Stamm noted opportunities at home -- to spread the Nike/NHL street hockey program to each of the NHL cities -- and internationally, through the NHL's new agreement with the Int'l Ice Hockey Federation. Asked if other companies would have access to the same packages as A-B and Nike, the NHL's Solomon said: "We have every belief that they're just the start of companies that are going to be part of this hockey package. And in fact, there's a tremendous amount of interest out there from a variety of companies at this very moment" (THE DAILY, 9/14). AD SALES: Bettman said the sale of ad time on Fox will be a "joint venture" between the league and Fox. He noted that the first two sales -- A-B and Nike -- came from the NHL: "It's a partnership, and ultimately we have control. But it is a partnership in terms of how we're going to try to execute it" (THE DAILY, 9/14). PAY-PER-VIEW: ESPN was also given the opportunity to launch a pay-per-view plan that would allow cable viewers to watch games from outside their market (N.Y. TIMES, 9/14). REVIEWS: "The deal may be a sign of the NHL's increasing popularity" (Tom Ford, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 9/14). "Don't look now, but the [NHL] is moving into the mainstream of professional sports" (Jeff Gordon, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 9/14). In New York, Jay Greenberg called it "fortuitous timing" for the NHL: "We'd like to see some improved overnights before becoming convinced that Fox has bought into something big" (N.Y. POST, 9/14). "Can Bart Simpson's pocket change save the [NHL's] smaller markets?" (Dave Fay, WASHINGTON TIMES, 9/14). Paul Kangas said Fox "is at it again" ("Nightly Business Report," PBS, 9/13). ESPN's Robin Roberts: "Apparently Fox had a little money left over from acquiring NFL games" ("SportsCenter", 9/13).