UPDATE: Full release now appears below. Deal calls for every Stanley Cup playoff game to be televised nationally as well as introduces a new national broadcast on the Friday following Thanksgiving.
Reports are out, including this one from Yahoo Sports' Puck Daddy blog, that the NHL is sticking with NBC/Versus for the next ten years. With Fox and Turner sports out of the running, the deal came down to either moving back to ESPN or continuing with the league's current broadcast partners.
SBJ's John Ourand confirmed earlier reports of the duration and value of the deal on Twitter this morning. The NHL will receive $2 billion over the course of the next decade from NBC/Comcast to broadcast NHL games on both cable channel Versus and NBC affiliate stations.
This deal represents a substantial increase in revenue from the flat fee of nearly $80 million from Versus and the revenue sharing arrangement with NBC. Next on the NHL's agenda will be renegotiating Canadian TV rights.
The decision was not a free choice for the NHL. NBC and Versus had the right to match any deal that ESPN or another network could have struck with the league, limiting the NHL's options greatly. The only way another network could woo them successfully would have involved making it financially unpalatable to NBC and Versus, which would have necessitated making the NHL a loss leader with their new outlet. That's never a good way to begin a television contract.
With labor woes plaguing the NFL and threatening the NBA, the NHL acted quickly to shore up its position among the major sports entertainment properties. The move ensures revenue for the league as it struggles to continue to bounce back from their own disastrous work stoppage that cancelled the entirety of the 2004-05 season. Looming a season away is the expiration of the NHL's current CBA with its players, which could imperil the 2012-13 season.
One of the contentious issues framing those discussions is expected to be the League's shutdown every four years so NHLers can participate in the winter Olympics. Last year's thrilling USA-Canada gold medal game in the Vancouver games was a huge boost to the League's image by giving stars like Ryan Miller and Sidney Crosby a platform on the league's broadcast partner's premier winter sporting event. But 2014's games are in Sochi, Russia, and game times will not fall neatly into the USA's primetime broadcast slots.
But with the league's biggest source of revenue possessing a vested interest in the participation of the game's biggest stars, the odds of NHL participation in the 2014 Sochi games just increased markedly.
Another hurdle for the league is current NHLPA director Donald Fehr. Fehr took the helm last fall in a move that prompted the Biz of Hockey's Matthew Coller and Jeff Levine to speculate on the ramifications for the upcoming CBA talks. Fehr remains a polarizing figure from his stewardship of the MLBPA, but as Coller noted, "the average player’s salary went from $330,000 to more than $2 million. The minimum salary went from $40,000 to $200,000" during Fehr's tenure. With the league's new sources of cash, the players have the right man for the job of ensuring they get a fair cut of the action.
Read the complete release by clicking here.
NHL & NBC SPORTS GROUP ANNOUNCE NEW 10-YEAR PARTNERSHIP
Agreement Calls for All Stanley Cup Playoff Games to be Televised Nationally
Introduces National Thanksgiving Friday Telecast on NBC
NBC & VERSUS to Televise 100 Regular Season Games Per Season
NEW YORK (April 19, 2011) – The National Hockey League and the NBC Sports Group have reached agreement on a landmark 10-year television and media rights deal, taking the partnership through the 2020-21 season. The expanded partnership, under which NBC remains the exclusive network home and VERSUS the exclusive cable home of the NHL® in the U.S., is highlighted by the first-ever national distribution of all Stanley Cup® Playoffs contests, including, for the first time, exclusive coverage starting with the Conference Semifinals. The agreement also calls for the NBC Sports Group to televise 100 regular season games per year and introduces a national NBC broadcast on Thanksgiving Friday. The announcement was made today by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Sports Group.
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. “This is the most significant U.S. media rights partnership in the League’s history,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “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 Sports and Comcast have been fantastic partners. They have provided incredible coverage of our sport and have teamed with us to deliver the best TV viewership figures in three decades. It is a credit to our players, our great game and our outstanding fans that Brian Roberts, Steve Burke, Dick Ebersol and their teams would make a commitment of this scale. We also know the best is yet to come.”
“We have significantly increased the value of the NBC Sports Group with this unprecedented, 10-year agreement with the National Hockey League,” said Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Sports Group. “What’s particularly exciting for us is not only the significant increase in regular season games, but the reality of a dream that every single playoff game will air on an NBC Sports Group platform. For the first time, the Conference Semifinal round will be exclusive on VERSUS with a 200 percent increase in games. In the regular season, we’re increasing VERSUS’ coverage from roughly 50 to 90 games.
“I cannot understate the importance of Gary Bettman’s leadership. He understands the scope and the promotional ability of not only our new NBC Sports Group, but of the new NBC Universal under Comcast’s ownership. The NHL has been and will continue to be one of our cornerstone properties.”
The NHL’s partnerships with both NBC Sports and VERSUS launched for the 2005-06 season and the six-year relationship has produced many ratings milestones. Among them:
Overall NHL television ratings in the United States have increased by 84 percent over the last four years
The 2011 NHL Winter Classic on NBC was the most-watched regular season game in the U.S. in 36 years
VERSUS’ 2011 regular season viewership was the network’s best ever, up 17 percent over last season
The 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs saw the largest audience in the history of the sport, with Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on NBC the most-watched NHL game in the U.S. in 36 years
The 2010 Playoffs on VERSUS were the most watched on U.S. cable in eight years, while the first two rounds were the most watched on cable on record.
Just last week, VERSUS achieved its best opening night viewership in its six years of Stanley Cup Playoffs coverage.
The agreement between the NHL and the NBC Sports Group includes targeted promotion across the combined Comcast/NBC Universal company which, since the merger, consists of 20 television networks and more than 40 digital platforms. VERSUS, which was in 64 million homes in 2005, is now in more than 79 million homes and is on course for further expansion of its distribution. The combined promotional muscle has already led to increased ratings for events such as the NHL Winter Classic, NHL Heritage Classic and Hockey Day in America.
Over the last five years, the NHL has grown TV ratings, substantially increased sponsorship and advertising revenue through partnerships with blue chip companies, built a robust digital business and created a year-round calendar of big events including the NHL Winter Classic, all while receiving numerous industry awards and media accolades. The League for the 2010-11 season is on pace to once again set a record for total revenue despite the challenging economy, surpassing $2.9 billion overall.
Joe Tetreault is Managing Editor of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He can be contacted here through The Biz of Baseball
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