Puck Daddy - NHL

The NHL's leadership and its owners weren't going to ignore the crack pipe of expansion fee windfalls for too much longer. Gary Bettman's shaky hand was already reaching for it last year when he said the NHL would sooner expand than relocate current teams, although that may have also been part of his "please disperse/nothing to see here" strategy of deflecting heat from struggling markets.

So it's no surprise Bettman is dangling a $400-million entrance fee for a Southern Ontario team (pending the Toronto Maple Leafs removing their collective jackboot from the NHL's neck) as catnip to new investors like Jeffrey Vinik of the Tampa Bay Lightning and potential new owners like Jerry Reinsdorf, as David Shoalts of the Globe & Mail reports Thursday.

But Bettman's comments about the NHL's next television contracts are pretty intriguing, via the G&M:

Through it all, the sources said, the pitch from Bettman was that all of the NHL's  U.S. television contracts are up in June, 2011. The current deals with Versus and NBC bring in about $75-million (U.S.) per year, combined. But, the sources said, prospective owners have been told the new contracts, presumably cashing in on the NHL's exposure through the Olympics in part, could bring in more than double that, and when added with the money from the Canadian networks, there could be as much as $500-million for the league and its 30 teams to split up.

Shoalts mentions the Olympics, but several people in the industry have told us that the Winter Classic may be the largest carrot in the next TV rights negotiation — yet another reason why the Sidney vs. Ovie outdoor match is expected to be made for next January. Nothing like blockbuster numbers heading into a contract renegotiation, as Sergei Samsonov(notes) would tell you while using dollar bills as toilet tissue ...

Can the NHL really double their rights fees in the U.S. for the next television deal?

The short answer might be "depending on what ESPN or Fox bids" in competition with what Versus and NBC offer. Will the NHLPA still be militant about getting back on ESPN without Paul Kelly at the helm?

We can't imagine Versus letting the NHL walk if the issue is money. Although the network has added properties over time, the NHL is still its flagship and getting Stanley Cup finals games on the air was a huge coup for a cable network still on the upswing.

While we're talking boob tube, two notes on NBC. First, the ratings for their last telecast (0.5 rating for New York Rangers vs. Boston Bruins on Sunday, March 21) were tied for the lowest since the Peacock landed the NHL in 2006 and were the lowest for any sporting event on broadcast TV in the U.S. that weekend.

This is disturbing because (a) the ratings have been pretty good for the NHL on NBC this year despite NBC being a total train wreck otherwise and (b) the Rangers/Bruins game was "flexed" into that time slot as a marquee matchup. Whoops.

Finally, Puck The Media reports that NBC won't be showing a Stanley Cup playoff game on Preakness Sunday Saturday, which is May 15 and right around the start of the conference finals/Game 7s of the conference semifinals.

Which means we won't suffer the sphincter-clenching anxiety of watching an NHL playoff OT encroach on a horse racing pregame show like in 2007. Unless, of course, things get epic for the game scheduled on May 1, which begins at 12:30 p.m. EST ... or 4.5 hours before NBC's Kentucky Derby coverage.

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