The NHL and NBC are going to announce that they've renewed their TV rights deal today, with Gary Bettman and Dick Ebersol scheduled for a news conference at 1 p.m. ET. (We're going to go ahead and assume it's not about Michael Scott's replacement on "The Office," although Leafs GM Brian Burke would be an inspired choice.)
A source with knowledge of the NBC/NHL relationship told us this morning that it's a 10-year deal. Yes, 10 years. And the Globe & Mail says it's $2 billion over that 10 years.
From NBC and the NHL:
According to the agreement, the NBC Sports Group obtains digital rights across all platforms and devices for the games it televises. In the regular season, NBC will continue to broadcast a national "Game of the Week," along with its coverage of the NHL Winter Classic and "Hockey Day in America." VERSUS also will telecast an exclusive national "Game of the Week," as well as NHL Premiere Games, NHL Faceoff, the NHL All-Star Game and any future NHL Heritage Classic outdoor games in Canada. NBC and VERSUS remain the exclusive home of the Stanley Cup Final. The NBC Sports Group's commitment includes building a new studio for NHL Network at its existing facility Stamford, Conn.
Specific deal terms are not known, but the bidding had gone above $200M per year. Fox pulled out of the bidding last week, and Turner pulled out yesterday, saying it could not find a business model to support the money the NHL appears to be getting in this negotiation. The NHL never came back to ESPN with a final bid, sources said. ESPN's interest in picking up the package stayed until the end of the bidding process. But sources said it was too difficult for the NHL and ESPN to work around NBC and Versus' matching rights.
So, in essence, the NHL was a restricted free agent, and NBC could match the offer sheet. As SBJ reports, the current TV rights deal has VERSUS paying $77.5 million and NBC in a revenue-sharing contract with the NHL.
What do you think about the NHL sticking with NBC, and what's currently known as VERSUS? Happy? Sad? Indifferent?
Ask 10 hockey fans, get 10 different answers about whether they think the NHL's partnership with NBC and Comcast has been a successful one since the lockout.
You'll hear gripes about on-air talent, production quality, the redundancy of featured teams and, in the case of VERSUS, a years-long criticism of the cable network's programming and accessibility.
But you'll also hear how the Winter Classic, an NBC-driven creation, became the second most-important TV property for the NHL besides the Stanley Cup Finals; how the coverage has improved over time, and especially on VERSUS since the NBC/Comcast merger (the bar, admittedly, having been set low); and how, at the very least, that NBC and VERSUS gave hockey more attention than ESPN did at the end of its run.
Will it still be a disparate collection of cage-fighting, car races, outdoorsmen shows and strained reality TV; or will it be better positioned as a challenger to ESPN, with the NHL and college sports as its main draw?
Also, what about the Olympics in 2014? If NBC does Sochi, will the NHL go? If it's another network, does that influence the League to opt out instead of pumping up another networks ratings with its talent?
It's pretty incredible, thinking back to the lockout, how far the League has rebounded. We've gone from the NHL taking Comcast's money to go on something called OLN after ESPN low-balled them, to having ESPN in a bidding war to reacquire hockey, with the TV rights jacked up.
The Winter Classic, the Stanley Cup Finals and conference finals are all rating well. There are at least eight or nine marketable teams for U.S. TV, even if NBC only shows about four of them. The League's top stars are, by and large, under the age of 30, and branching out into popular culture.
It's a good time to be the NHL, and to be in business with the NHL.
Did the NHL need ESPN? Debatable. I think those in the League brass and on the Board of Governors that felt feeding the NHL into the ESPN publicity machine had a point: The Game is more marketable and the players are more marketable than in our last dance with the WWL. The casual fan is ready to embrace this sport, and ESPN can sell anything to its constituents if motivated to do so.
That said, they put poker over hockey near the end of our run. For that, they can't be forgiven.
As for NBC … look, the fans know what we want. And there are still problems with the coverage, especially on the cable side, playing to the casuals instead of the die-hards too often. All we ask is that they continue to listen to us, adapt and, occasionally, turn off Pierre's mic during game play.
Because, obviously, we're stuck with each other for quite a while.