SBJ/20101004/SBJ In-Depth

How the next NHL rights deal could shake out

What they’re saying: “There’s been a tremendous spirit of working together across both sides [NHL and NBC] to build a partnership, and I commend them for that. I certainly would like to see the NHL on NBC in the future.”
Dick Ebersol, chairman, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics

What they mean: NBC has carried NHL programming since January 2006. It is not paying the league a rights fee; the two sides split ad revenue. NBC likes having hockey programming on its air, especially when it also carries the Winter Olympics. Its pending acquisition by Versus’ parent, Comcast, will make the league that much more attractive to NBC.

What will happen: The NHL wants to be on broadcast TV, and NBC likes having the NHL. Once Comcast’s NBC acquisition gets regulatory approval, look for NBC and Versus to make a joint bid. Expect the NHL to pick up a broadcast rights fee this time around.


What they’re saying: “The NHL is a terrific sport with a loyal fan base and tremendous upside for any network. We’re always interested in having discussions with the leagues and governing bodies representing major sports and events as their media rights hit the marketplace.”
Eric Shanks, president, Fox Sports

What they mean: Fox Sports has been at the table for just about any rights deal that has come up in the 15 months since Chase Carey moved from DirecTV to Fox parent company News Corp. This negotiation won’t be any different. Fox wants to build up its sports lineup and, even if it doesn’t get the NHL, its mere presence in the negotiations will push the price up for its competitors.

What will happen: Look for Fox to make a serious bid on an NHL package for its broadcast channel and FX. Fox is unlikely to get the package, but will stay around long enough to see if it can get a bargain.


What they’re saying: “We don’t look at it as a hedge. We look at it as a fan service. It’s a huge opportunity and a huge need that fans want filled.”
John Collins, chief operating officer, NHL

What they mean: The NFL put a package of its games on NFL Network, and MLB has looked at MLB Network as a place for exclusive content. NHL Network is increasing its distribution — it could be in 50 million homes by the end of the year. But NHL executives don’t view NHL Network as a competitor for media packages it wants to sell to TV networks.

What will happen: Don’t look for the NHL to place an exclusive package of games on its own TV channel.


What they’re saying: “We’re very happy with the product. We’re very happy with our relationship with the NHL. And we’re very hopeful that we will be able to continue working with them for years to come.”
Jamie Davis, president, Versus

What they mean: The NHL is the biggest property on Versus, and it commands the network’s biggest ratings. Since signing a three-year, $207.5 million deal (with a three-year option) before the 2005-06 season, Versus has added 11 million homes to its distribution footprint and seen its asset value increase from $625 million to $1.3 billion.

What will happen: Versus wants to keep the NHL on its schedule. Expect the channel to make an aggressive bid, in conjunction with NBC. Look for the Versus bid to include weekend games as well. Its rights fee may not actually increase, though, if the NHL splits the package with another network.


What they’re saying: “I believe they come out of contract after one more year and we’ve expressed our interest in discussing that with them.”
John Skipper, executive vice president of content, ESPN

What they mean: The bad blood that marked negotiations between ESPN and the NHL in 2005 is gone. ESPN has not been shy about saying it wants to bid on a rights package. And NHL executives believe a deal with ESPN will help the sport get mentioned more frequently on ESPN’s shows like “SportsCenter.”

What will happen: The NHL wants to be on ESPN’s schedule. Look for the league to carve out a package for ESPN that will include playoff rights. Expect any deal to require that ESPN create shoulder programming to support league games. Don’t be surprised if the package includes international broadcast rights, which ESPN currently holds as well.


What they’re saying: “It’s a great property, but with our commitment to golf and college basketball, there just isn’t room on our schedule.”
Sean McManus, president, CBS News and CBS Sports

What they mean: CBS has a long history with the NHL. It was the first TV channel to broadcast NHL games back in the late 1950s. But it hasn’t carried an NHL game in three decades and isn’t about to start.

What will happen: CBS will not make a bid.


What they’re saying: Turner refused to comment for this story.

What they mean: Typically when a company issues a “no comment,” it suggests something may be happening. Not this time. Turner has made a big bet on sports since David Levy took over as president of Turner Entertainment ad sales and marketing, picking up rights to MLB and the NCAA. Turner Sports has its eyes on a bigger prize than the NHL: the NFL’s deals are up after the 2013 season.

What will happen: Look for Turner to kick the tires on the NHL package — maybe for truTV — but don’t expect it to make a significant bid.

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