NHL bringing Stanley Cup Playoff games to USA Network


When the NHL signed its 10-year deal with Comcast/NBC, there were complaints about how the deal limited its reach to new audiences. When the other Big Three leagues all have multi-channel deals in the U.S., why couldn’t hockey also have its product show up in front of viewers who aren’t already watching NBCSN?

The League scratched that itch when it handed the World Cup of Hockey rights to ESPN, which was a strategically sound and financially lucrative move. (NBC has claimed scheduling issues were to blame, but we’ve learned ESPN’s bid blew them away; and it’s not as if ESPN doesn’t have programming it’ll have to shuffle around too, right?)

Now comes word, via Ken Fang at Awful Announcing, that the NHL will have another new network on which to present its games – actually, like ESPN, it’s a return to an old broadcast partner.

From Fang, the NHL is coming back to USA Network:

USA aired the NHL through the 1984-85 season before giving way to ESPN. Since then, USA has not aired NHL games and has lost all of the sports properties it used to televise regularly including The Masters and U.S. Open tennis.

When e-mailed for confirmation, an NBC Sports spokesman said, “USA Network is joining the NBC Sports Group team to televise Stanley Cup Playoff games this year. We’ll have more information as we get closer to the start of the playoffs.”

Last year, the Stanley Cup Playoffs aired on NBC, NBCSN, CNBC and NHL Network. In its current contract, NBC does have the option to use USA as an overflow channel in case there are conflicts with NBC or NBCSN. Last year, NBC utilized CNBC as the main overflow channel, but it appears that the Sports Group wants to spread the Stanley Cup Playoffs across its platforms by adding USA.

In theory, NBC takes the 15 games it aired on CNBC and puts them on USA Network. CNBC does nothing to help the League; the NHL, however, helps NBC trumpet the ratings for CNBC as “the fastest growing cable channel” as hockey and the Olympics help juice its ratings.

But let’s be real: USA Network has the viewership -- sixth-highest rated cable network in last week's ratings -- and the properties that could be really valuable in promoting the playoffs. Unless you don’t think a preview of a first-round Game 7 before the main event on MONDAY NIGHT RAW wouldn’t be beneficial.

Smart move on its surface for the NHL. Now, how do we get Henrik Lundqvist to guest on “Suits”?