NHL Signs $2B TV Deal With NBC, Freezing Out ESPN, Fox, Turner

By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor

April 19, 2011: Even though the NHL plays on ice, the pro league is hot. And NBC is paying about $2 billion to remain part of the heat.

The NHL and NBC have unveiled a deal that would keep the league for the next ten seasons. ESPN, Fox and Turner also were part of the bidding process, which highlights how far the NHL has come since its lockout season in 2004-05.

NBC and Versus are currently the league's primary media partners in the U.S. Versus is now part of the NBC Sports Group as part of the recently finalized deal under which its parent company, Comcast, acquired majority ownership of NBC Universal.

The current U.S. TV deal was set to expire in June following the conclusion of the Stanley Cup finals.

The NBC-NHL deal was officially unveiled at a joint press conference on April 19 in New York. It was attended by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, NBC Sports Group chairman Dick Ebersol and other NHL and NBC executives.

The NHL said that its just-concluded 2010-11 season reached new highs in several key areas, including traditional media, Internet usage, merchandise sales and partnership activation.

“This is the most significant U.S. media rights partnership in the league’s history,” Bettman said during the news conference. “NBC Universal-Comcast is one of the most important, connected and wired media companies in the U.S., and as the potential of the NBC Sports Group is realized, the importance of our relationship will become more apparent to hockey fans and our business partners."

NBC has had the NHL since after the lockout season. The alliance was jump-started with the first Winter Classic, played outdoors in Buffalo on Jan. 1, 2008. Ratings for the event have had record numbers every year since then.

“NBC Sports and Comcast have been fantastic partners," said Bettman. "They have provided incredible coverage of our sport and have teamed with us to deliver the best TV viewership figures in three decades."

The NHL also has had tremendous success with other jewel events, including the currently in-progress Stanley Cup playoffs and the Tim Hortons Heritage Classic (played in Canada) as well as the All-Star Game.

According to Ebersol, NBC Sports Group plans to change the Versus network name within three months. Versus launched in 1995 as Outdoor Life Network until it was rebranded in 2006.

Regarding other bidders, in particular ESPN, with which the league had a TV deal from 1999-2004, Bettman stated, “Everybody has enormous respect for ESPN. Six years ago we decided to go in a different direction, for a variety of reasons, and it has worked well for us. This for us is a great place to be. Versus’ coverage of our game has been extraordinary. Hockey fans have found it and have been telling us on a regular basis that the coverage is terrific, and I think it’s going to get better.”

As Ebersol summed up the new deal, "“This is a perfect marriage with us. Nothing serves the NBC Sports Group better than the National Hockey League.”

"The game on the ice, which has never been better, has fueled much of our business momentum," John Collins, NHL COO, said in a statement regarding the growth of the league. "There is a buzz around our game. Fans are talking hockey, watching hockey and engaging with the NHL like never before. That in turn has led to the corporate community taking notice and embracing their association with the league in meaningful, creative and impactful ways."

NHL: Business On Ice, In-Area 'Never Better'

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