NHL to Return to ESPN?

Fr. Dougal

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Feb 17, 2004
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http://www.sportsbusinessjournal.co...ticle.main&articleId=55770&requestTimeout=900

Look who’s talking: ESPN, NHL
League approaches net about bringing games back as soon as ’08-’09
By JOHN OURAND and TRIPP MICKLE
Staff writers
Published July 30, 2007


The NHL and ESPN are in discussions about bringing the league’s games back to ESPN2 as soon as the 2008-09 season.

Multiple sources described the conversations as preliminary. The two started talking the week of July 16 when the NHL approached ESPN about NBC’s nine-game regular-season schedule, plus the playoffs. NBC holds the rights to air the coming season as part of a revenue-sharing agreement, and the network holds a one-year option for the 2008-09 season.

It’s not certain that NBC would exercise that option, given the sport’s tepid ratings on the network. Regular-season ratings on NBC averaged a 0.9 during the 2006-07 season and a 1.0 during the 2007-08 season over nine telecasts.

The key to this whole scenario is Versus, which holds cable exclusivity to all of the league’s games through 2011 and is paying the league a rights fee in excess of $70 million annually. Sources close to the Comcast-owned network, however, indicated that Versus would be willing to waive that clause, but only if it gets something in return — either a lower rights fee, a stronger schedule or a deal extension.

Sources say the conversations are happening at the highest levels and include NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and ESPN executive vice president of content John Skipper.

The talks with ESPN mark a turnaround from three years ago, when Mark Shapiro, then-executive vice president of programming and production, publicly questioned the value of having the league on TV — remarks that still make league executives bristle. The arrival of Skipper in October 2005 could allow both sides to overcome that, as sources close to the league believe that Skipper values hockey more than Shapiro.

The NHL has faced immense criticism from hockey fans and media for its relationship with Versus, which is in about 71 million homes and sometimes difficult to locate. The first year of the NHL’s relationship with Versus was marked by complaints over the network’s limited distribution in markets such as Buffalo and Anaheim, as well as in hotels around the country.

Ever since, owners and team officials privately have pushed for a return to ESPN, which is in 92 million homes and a staple in bars, restaurants and hotels across the country, but few believed such a move would happen because of Versus’ cable exclusivity.

A return to ESPN could boost the league’s profile on the network’s news shows. According to an ESPN study of its 1 a.m. “SportsCenter” program, the show featured 29 fewer minutes of NHL coverage in March 2007 than in March 2004, the last year ESPN aired NHL games. That amounts to a 28 percent decline in hockey’s allotment of airtime, ESPN ombudsman Le Anne
Schreiber wrote in May.

The move would mark a change at Versus, as well, which is open to giving up its cable exclusivity if it can tap into ESPN’s marketing prowess. Over the past two years, Versus executives have complained privately that ESPN ignored their network. They are hoping for a situation that mirrors the NBA, where ESPN and TNT push viewers to each network’s games.

The league’s talks with ESPN come as it is negotiating with cable and satellite operators for carriage of its planned NHL Network and its out-of-market Center Ice package. Cable sources describe the negotiations as progressing smoothly, with the league taking a page from Major League Baseball by tying carriage of its planned channel with the renewal of Center Ice.

Some well-placed cable sources were skeptical that the league would be able to launch a 24-hour U.S. channel by this fall, given that the NHL hasn’t appointed anybody to run the channel yet and the NHL season begins in just three months.

Sources close to the league say that will not be a problem because it will rely heavily on an NHL Network that already exists — Canada’s version. The U.S. channel will have a look and feel similar to the Canadian one. The planned channel will have 50 live games in 2007-08. Most of the content will be identical to what appears in Canada, although it will be repackaged with some U.S.-based programming, sources said.

An internal team of five to seven people also has been assigned to work on the channel when it arrives in the U.S. The team will be led by Jody Shapiro, former vice president of business development at NBA TV, and Patti Fallick, group vice president of NHL Productions.

The league has hired Ascent Media Network Services to manage and distribute the channel. A subsidiary of publicly traded Ascent Media Group, the company has offices in Stamford, Conn., from which it will maintain the new network’s satellite signal, advertising insertions and other aspects of NHL Network. The company currently works with YES Network and the NFL Network.

The league wants the widest distribution possible for the new network and wants to stay away from sports tiers. It will continue to pursue the strategy used by MLB during its Extra Innings negotiations in hopes of avoiding sports-tier placement, but executives with several of the biggest cable operators have said they would only carry the NHL Network on a sports tier.
 

Hoagie

I suggest you tread lightly
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Mar 24, 2004
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#2
Oh...did someone finally tell ESPN that the lockout is over?
 

Beeman99

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Mar 14, 2005
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#3
please let it be better than ESPN's coverage of Nascar
 

GDRC

This is what I do now
Jun 28, 2006
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#4
Anything is better than Versus.
 

Tinkledrinker13

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Oct 22, 2002
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#7
i get and like melrose but i love seeing NHL2night back which Buccigross. He is a huge hockey fan. on top of that it will be nice to hear gary thorne again. Also i am all for the NHL network. with a league that has such a rich history of great games, i for one would love to watch some of the old Gordie Howe games or the 1980 Oilers. Christ they can show some Don Cherry Rock'em Sock'em videos.
 

Fr. Dougal

Registered User
Feb 17, 2004
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#8
Same... I can't wait for the NHL Network. And if it wasn't for my overnight hours, I'd have signed up for Center Ice. (Although I may still do it this year for the weekend games.)
 

Jimmy's Dignity

Pound my bloody fudge!!
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May 27, 2005
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#9
article said:
According to an ESPN study of its 1 a.m. “SportsCenter” program, the show featured 29 fewer minutes of NHL coverage in March 2007 than in March 2004, the last year ESPN aired NHL games. That amounts to a 28 percent decline in hockey’s allotment of airtime, ESPN ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber wrote in May. Only a 28% decline? More like a 2800% decrease...NHL2Night is only on the fucking internet I think

The move would mark a change at Versus, as well, which is open to giving up its cable exclusivity if it can tap into ESPN’s marketing prowess. Over the past two years, Versus executives have complained privately that ESPN ignored their network. *** Ya fuckin' think? They have gone out of their way to marginalize the entire sport of hockey *** They are hoping for a situation that mirrors the NBA, where ESPN and TNT push viewers to each network’s games.
I didn't know that there is an NHL Network in the offing...too fucking bad Cablevision won't carry that either. If I had the NFL & NHL Networks I don't think I'd watch much of anything else
 

Mindslayer

Best in the Biz
May 4, 2006
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#11
Games on ESPN would be great, if only because of the HD factor.

If the NHL Network games are offered on my system (Time Warner) in HD then I wont hesitate to subscribe.
 

BravoSierra

Why do people keep calling me?
Jun 27, 2005
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#13
Bout fucking time. Want people to watch the sport? Put it on a channel people get.
 

badcellphoneguy

Kansas City...Kansas City here they come!
Jul 18, 2005
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#14
The NHL Network is own by TSN in Canada. It is right now only availible north of the border. When I was in Canada for some hockey games last season it was amazing. I hope cable and satellite systems wake up and get it here in the states. I would also hope they would broadcast hockey night in canada on it and see what a real hockey broadcast is like. The NHL must and I mean MUST go back on ESPN.