SBD/April 14, 2011/Media

Will NBA, NFL Labor Unrest Help NHL Score Lucrative New TV Rights Deal?

Three bidders reportedly pushing annual NHL TV rights fee above $200M
The NHL is "poised to take advantage of the labor unrest of its brothers" as the Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway, and by June the league is "hoping to parlay its red-hot popularity into a new TV rights deal that could double the $75 million annual agreement it holds" with Versus and NBC, according to Rich Thomaselli of AD AGE. ESPN, Fox and Turner, "as well as the incumbents, are all in the running for the right to broadcast hockey games." The timing "might be especially prudent for ESPN, given that the sports giant broadcasts 'Monday Night Football' for the NFL as well as live NBA games from October through June." MillerCoors "recently inked a seven-year exclusive sponsorship deal with the NHL estimated at" $400M, and the company last month "strongly hinted at its distributors' conference that ESPN and the NHL could be joining forces soon." But many sports-marketing and sports-media experts "believe the rights will remain with Versus and the new NBC/Comcast venture" (ADAGE.com, 4/13). Bloomberg TV's Michele Steele reports the NHL is "not planning on splitting up the rights among several networks," and the current deal with NBC/Versus "has the advantage over the other bidders because it has the right of first refusal and the ability to match competing bids" (Bloomberg TV, 4/14).

NHL TO SCORE IN NEW DEAL: In this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, John Ourand cites sources as saying that the NHL is "poised to sign its biggest media rights deal within the next two months, as the presence of three bidders" in ESPN, NBC/Versus and Turner is "pushing the annual rights fee above" $200M. Fox, "which had early talks with the NHL, is not believed to be in the running to pick up the rights." But the "presence of three bidders will help to push the league's rights fee well beyond the $77.5 million per year that Versus now pays." Ourand writes the "most intriguing potential bid comes from Turner, which is looking to add sports to its truTV lineup." The net "was a big part of Turner's NCAA tournament coverage, and Turner executives were happy with the channel's performance" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/11 issue).

SPRING MADNESS? The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin reported the NHL as part of its U.S. TV negotiations "wanted to present the postseason as the NCAA does its basketball March Madness, which is over within three weeks." Packaging a "leaner schedule is seen as a real bonus in the U.S." Dowbiggin: "It's no secret that the first two rounds of the playoffs are the best, and that momentum flags by week six. The problem is that four seven-game series in three time zones are hard to compress" (GLOBESPORTS.com, 4/13).

SHINY ICE: The NHL is on pace to set several business records and milestones this season. All North American TV partners experienced viewership increases, and 17 of the 30 teams' RSNs saw ratings increases or were even with season. The league also is on pace for its fifth consecutive year of record revenue and is projected to bring in more than $2.9B by the end of the playoffs. NHL Enterprises' revenue is projected to increase by 14.8% and will set a new best, while sponsorship sales set an all-time record with gross sales increasing by 33% (NHL).
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NHL, Versus, NBC, ESPN, Fox, Hockey, Media, TBS/TNT

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