NBC May Abandon NHL Partnership, WWE Exec Says

·4 min read

While neither the WWE nor Peacock are willing to disclose how many new subscribers signed on to the OTT platform in the run-up to WrestleMania 37, Nick Khan on Thursday seemed happy to spill the beans about at least one other aspect of Comcast’s sports-media business.

Speaking to analysts during the WWE’s first-quarter earnings call, the president and chief revenue officer of the House that McMahon Built suggested that NBC and the NHL are poised to go their separate ways. In a response to a query about how the shuttering of NBCSN might lead to a scheduling boondoggle for USA Network, Khan said a coming regime change would eliminate any overlap between wrestling and hockey.

“It’s our belief that NBC and the NHL are not going to continue to be in business together,” Khan said, before adding that the remainder of the rights package that was not snapped up last month by ESPN would go “to a new suitor.”

Prior to Jan. 21, when NBC Sports announced it would close down the NBCSN cable net before the end of the year, the prospect of a WWE-NHL snag would have been unthinkable. But the elimination of NBCSN meant that USA would assume the bulk of the NHL schedule, an outcome that promised to send WWE Raw and WWE NXT on a collision course with hockey’s eight-month schedule.

Khan’s remarks about the status of the NHL’s rights package comes on the heels of chatter that favors ESPN to grab the remaining portion of games that it had left on the table a month ago. Earlier this week, a well-placed source intimated that Disney was in the process of working out a deal for the entire NHL slate, a monopolistic seizure that would run counter to commissioner Gary Bettman’s ambition of dealing in a second media giant.

An ESPN rep intimated that the company was over the moon about the deal it worked out in March and was not in the market for a full NHL takeover.

Fox Sports is also said to be looking into getting back onto the ice, after having aired its last NHL game in 1999. Fox recently untethered itself from its $3.3 billion Thursday Night Football package, which is set to expire at the end of the 2022 NFL season. (In addition to his ruminations on hockey, Khan also weighed in on the new Amazon TNF deal, telling investors that while WWE has no inside knowledge of the dynamic between the online retailer and the NFL, “we wouldn’t be shocked if Amazon was negotiating now, as we speak, to get that package on its air exclusively early.”

Turner Sports is also a viable candidate for an NHL bid, although talk about WarnerMedia’s possible interest in adding hockey to a slate already dominated by the NBA has been rather muted.

ESPN’s previously announced NHL deal gives Bristol the right to televise as many as four Stanley Cup Final matchups between 2022 and 2028. While the contract signed in March is believed to be worth in the neighborhood of $2.3 billion per year, a soup-to-nuts Disney-NHL union would not double the agreed-upon fee. As negotiated by the Mouse House, the league’s “A Package” already includes comprehensive digital/streaming rights, which include 75 exclusive games to stream nationally on ESPN+ and Hulu, and the NHL’s 1,000-game out-of-market suite.

NBC Sports has been the exclusive home to the NHL since the league returned to the ice following the 2004-05 lockout. In 2011, the two partners agreed on a 10-year, $2 billion extension.

In addition to opening the metaphorical NHL kimono, Khan touched briefly on the April 10-11 activation of the WWE’s partnership with Peacock. (“We were thrilled with the result, and our partners at Peacock were even happier,” he said.) When asked to specify how many people shelled out for WrestleMania, Khan demurred, saying, “Our partners at Peacock have asked us not to do that.”

WWE chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon also steered clear of any audience data, saying only that WrestleMania 37 was “the most-viewed live event in Peacock’s young history.”

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