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NBC, Versus Set To Announce Deal To Retain NHL TV Rights

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NBC and Versus have agreed to a deal to renew the NHL’s TV rights, according to execs close to the deal. A formal announcement is expected to come this afternoon. Specific deal terms are not known, but the bidding had gone above $200M per year. Fox pulled out of the bidding last week, and Turner pulled out yesterday, saying it could not find a business model to support the money the NHL appears to be getting in this negotiation. The NHL never came back to ESPN with a final bid, sources said. ESPN’s interest in picking up the package stayed until the end of the bidding process. But sources said it was too difficult for the NHL and ESPN to work around NBC and Versus’ matching rights.

The NHL’s rights fee is believed to exceed – by far – the $120M per-year average that ESPN paid from '99-'04, which marked the NHL’s largest contract to date. The league’s current deal with Versus is for $77.5M per year, while NBC has a revenue-sharing deal that does not involve a rights fee. Many execs inside the NHL favored ESPN, believing a deal with the network would guarantee more coverage on popular shows like “SportsCenter.” But NBC and Versus determined that the package was too important for Versus to lose. This marks the first big media rights negotiation since Comcast acquired NBC.
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