Hockey Fans Win More Than Anybody Else In New NHL/Comcast Mega-Deal

Everyone should be satisfied.

Gary Bettman should feel good about himself today. As many have pointed out, he took a property that was worth a paltry $70-80 million per year in 2005 coming out of the lockout, and worth nothing to broadcast television, and turned it into a $200 million-per year, broadcast inclusive, multimedia mega-deal in six years. Now, one could point out that he also took it from being worth $150 million to ESPN/ABC in 1999 to practically worthless in 6 years because of a lockout, but we’ll stay positive today. Commissioner Bettman should feel great validation in his faith in Comcast and what eventually became VERSUS today.

Another thing he’ll win is better playoff coverage. I’ve whined about the inability for the NHL to get all of it’s playoff games on national television for quite some time now, but that ends starting next year (and even, to some extent, this year, with VERSUS/NBC airing a quadruple-header Saturday). Every playoff game will have a national, cable or broadcast network home. That puts the NHL on even footing with the NBA as far as coverage. Also putting them on even footing is getting every playoff game from the Conference Semifinals on an exclusive broadcast. It provides automatic national ratings growth for that round, which had previously only seen two games per series on an exclusive basis.

Dick Ebersol has reasons to be satisfied with this as well. He can go back to worrying about the Olympics and the NFL lockout now. It’s one more headache gone, and he’s set up his broadcast network with an additional major league should a lockout decrease the ratings power of the football. He’s also set up his company’s cable network with at least 270 hours of programming (not including pre- and post-game) from October-April with 90 exclusive NHL games (no more “bonus telecasts”) on whatever VERSUS will be re-named within three months. That doesn’t even include the playoffs, which will now be broadcast across multiple networks of NBC/Comcast. Both of the major parties should be happy with this.

Again, NBC gets a chance to grow their sports department with this. The Thanksgiving Friday game NBC will air is the earliest an NHL game has ever been on broadcast television, and don’t doubt that NBC will make a big deal about it. Sure, it will likely involve the big seven or eight NBC favorites, but it continues to branch out hockey ‘s exposure beyond the typical. Hockey Day in America will return, and be sure that the event will increase in hours and coverage next year. Hockey fits in well with their network demographic (18-49 males, and particularly 18-34 males) and with their brand. With VERSUS along for the ride, they needed this as much as the NHL did.

But the biggest winner in all of this, and the one most deserving of a victory in all of this, is the hockey fan. You will now be served with the most NHL games on national television in more than a decade, and on a network that truly cares about them. You will no longer have to shell out $150 a year just to see every playoff game. That will seem absurd to you in a couple of years, that you even did in the past. In fact, Center Ice might become unnecessary to you now that there’s 100 games on national television every year. Just by the increase in games, you’ll be able to see more teams on a regular basis and just be saturated with hockey programming more hours per day.

You’ll see the NHL Network improve, too. NBC Sports Group has committed to building the NHL Net a studio in VERSUS’ home of Stamford, CT. Having the NHL Network complete it’s new look with a brand new studio and likely, a more American personality to it will likely improve that network. In 2006, the average hockey fan had about 7-10 hours a week of national coverage, and that’s if NBC was airing a game. Now, with NHL Network airing On the Fly in America every night for six hours of live stuff, VERSUS being on three nights a week at least, and NBC returning for many weeks, hockey fans can expect a minimum of 50-60 hours per week of games and studio shows.

So cheer a little louder today, puckheads. You’ve been told for years by TV execs, commentators, pundits and others who just don’t get it that your sport is inferior, less telegenic, that nobody cares. With this deal, the NHL, NBC and Comcast have committed to each other, and they’ve committed to you, to show that our sport is worth the limelight that we shine on it night after night. The more and more I think about this deal, the word “commitment” seems about right. Because it cements a commitment between everyone in the world of hockey. All in one place. Enough worrying about this, let’s go watch some hockey.

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About stevelepore
Steve Lepore is the Managing Editor of Puck the Media. His work has been featured in The Hockey News. Feel free to contact him at stevemlepore@gmail.com

28 Responses to Hockey Fans Win More Than Anybody Else In New NHL/Comcast Mega-Deal

  1. Ian says:

    Wasn’t OLN’s slogan in their first year of coverage, if I can remember correctly, “We Believe in Hockey?” There’s no doubt about that statement now.

    • nosferatu says:

      Indeed it was. Tonight I pulled out the OLN Stanley Cup Playoffs shirt I won in 2006 that has that exact slogan on there.

  2. Arthur says:

    Excellent summation Lepore.
    Mark Shapiro pretty much made ESPN unwatchable during his reign at ESPN (and he did the same thing to the Six Flags enterprise). He valued talking heads arguing and yelling at each other over live sporting events. The current regime at ESPN dearly wants more live sports programming. Why? Because they know there is a potential threat in the Comcast/NBC union. It is all about acquiring tv rights these days and this is a good score for Ebersol. It is the first step in building the NBC Sports Channel (my guess on the Versus’ new name) into a formidable challenger to ESPN’s throne.
    Everybody wants to see more and more playoff games on tv. It just was not in the present contract to be able to do that. You are right…the hockey fan was served very well today.

    • leafsfan1967 says:

      I’m not sure I agree that a more American feel to the NHL Network will necessarily be a good thing but time will tell….

      Speaking of the NHL Network, Steve did you find out if they plan on continuing to carry all or part of the Hockey Night in Canada package next year?

  3. E says:

    I’m confused about the playoff coverage? How can every playoff game be on Versus or NBC?
    Will everything be regiional in the early rounds?
    Will NBC televise any games in prime time?
    Please explain.
    Thanks.

    • stevelepore says:

      One of the other NBC/Comcast networks (CNBC, MSNBC, USA, Golf Channel, any under that umbrella) will air any playoff games that have conflicts with games that VERSUS would be airing. So, there could be games on VERSUS at 7PM and on, say USA or CNBC at 7:30P.

    • Ian says:

      The NBC Sports Group will use their other cable properties to air those other games: CNBC, Golf Channel, SyFy, Bravo, USA, E!, G4, etc. The possibilities are endless.

      • leafsfan1967 says:

        We can wait to see how this plays out but does this really mean that an Ottawa Montreal playoff game will appear on CNBC, Golf Channel, SyFy, Bravo, USA, E!, G4, etc?

      • stevelepore says:

        Again, YES. Stop asking when we keep telling you that that’s what they’ve promised.

      • nosferatu says:

        And I’m guessing you can cross Bravo (not to mention E!) off that list. I don’t think they’re going to be bumping Top Chef or any of their (more annoying but highly-rated) shows for the equivalent of Anaheim-Nashville.

        I just kind of wish we didn’t have to wait a whole year to see just how this all will play out come playoff time next spring. I’m quite fascinated by the plan NBC comes up with. I know that USA Network has gone away from sports programming (to being somewhat funny), but that would probably be my top choice as I’m guessing its distribution, particularly in HD, is wider than that of the other networks.

  4. Sean says:

    The NHL has been saved by high definition television. No sport improved visually more than hockey. Sure, it obviously makes other sports look better, but nothing like how it helped hockey. Especially in terms of pulling in casual fans…you know, the one who would say, “I like going to games but I can’t see the puck on TV.”

  5. E says:

    I dont like this at all. i do not want to watch hockey on the golf channel. Remember how bad things were when the USA-Canada Olympic game was when it was on MSNBC last year?
    There will be many similar situations.
    Also, I hope NBC will do the following:
    televise a game every Sunday beginning with the week after the Super Bowl through the end of the regular season.
    start every game at 3:30 et.
    no more 12:30 et starts.

    • stevelepore says:

      How can you complain about this? IT MEANS YOU DONT HAVE TO PAY $150 TO SEE EVERY PLAYOFF GAME.

      Every playoff game. On cable television.

      This isn’t like the Olympics at all. There will still be games on the main networks, VERSUS and NBC. They won’t be tape delayed or anything. This is just if there are scheduling conflicts. Like having an ESPN2 and 3 to fall back on.

      You cannot complain about the playoff arrangement. You simply can’t.

      • nosferatu says:

        No, you can’t complain, and I was one being skeptical in advance (until all the details emerged). It just really shows–which isn’t something you’ve always been able to say about the league or its TV partners–that they get it. They understand what fans want and in this case they’re making a strong commitment to do just that.

        The money alone is reason for the NHL to make it work. Yeah, inflation will likely make $200 million in ten years seem like less, but NBC has the incentive to build up ratings and exposure of the game over that time to make this huge investment really worthwhile. That’s one thing I love about this deal; if things don’t trend upward greatly over the next few years in terms of ratings and such, it’s not like NBC can just bail. They’re in this for the long haul, so they’d be fools to not put the right resources in place to make it a wise investment.

    • Sean says:

      That’s awesome. How was it bad that USA/Canada was on MSNBC?? How did that affect you at all?

      This is like sportswriters complaining before the NCAA tournament that some games would be on TruTV.

      Who cares what channel it’s on? IT’S ON!! That’s the point.

  6. Mike says:

    Would’ve been nice if every Stanley Cup Final game aired on NBC in the new deal. Every other major sport’s championship games are over-the-air so that really should’ve been a sticking point for the NHL. Overall, very good news for all parties involved.

    Hopefully, wider distribution of the NHL Network is also in the works.

    • Sean says:

      I bet NBC wanted to keep the 2 games on Versus. Aren’t those the most-watched Versus telecasts each year? They need to keep those 2 games to keep expanding how many households get Versus.

      The most important part of the deal, for me, is how Versus continues to evolve. I’m assuming at least one Notre Dame home game will end up there, they’re going after more college sports and they’re already promoting increased coverage of horse racing now that NBC has all three Triple Crown races.

      Versus could use the NHL to become a real network, much the same way ESPN2 did waaaaay back in the day.

  7. Stephen says:

    It’s really great for all hockey fans to get a chance to see all the playoff games in other NBCU-Comcast networks. Can’t wait till next year to see what it’ll be like so it can show ESPN that the NHL rules other than that NBA crap.

  8. Mike in Idaho says:

    This is a great day for hockey fans, although it will probably cost the NHL $150/year by me not getting Center Ice anymore.

  9. jkrdevil says:

    Just a guess, but I think they might use CNBC as the overflow in the playoffs. Widely available channel and doesn’t really have a primetime schedule to pre-empt.

  10. chuckv says:

    $150 million in 1999=$194 million in 2010

    • Colton says:

      That’s a 29% increase with a lockout that cancelled an entire season in the middle of that decade. Still pretty good. I’m not sold on the term of 10 years. Who knows what the sports world will look like then. But at least it’s stability for the league and the fans.

      Note that the Canadian rights are up in a couple of years. Could be >$250 million for Canadian rights.

  11. Patrick says:

    games wont be on cnbc or msnbc or bravo, or E, or usa network, it will be on Unversial HD. why to increase distribution. NBC will make customers ask for it for those who dont have it.

    • nosferatu says:

      I don’t expect that to happen. They’d be alienating an entire audience that doesn’t have HD TVs (yes, there are some). Besides that, Universal HD isn’t even available to some, and for those it is, it’s way up in crazy-extra-priced tiers.

      • Martin says:

        I agree. It goes against what Ebersol said. He stated that games will be on a widely carried NBC cable station. Universal is far from that description. There’s no way they’d go to an HD only station. That would seriously hurt the odds that they can gain anything from picking up these games. CNBC makes a world of sense since they have very little prime time programming.

  12. Joe M says:

    I think it was the tv deal the nhl had to make in the end. Comcast also owns part of the NHL network and that is an important component to increase its reach. Comcast/NBC had the right to match any offer from ESPN as you know and weren’t going to let it go. Maybe ESPN wont give the NHL an extra 30 seconds in sportscenter or Mike & Mike but it wouldn’t have changed much anyways. I agree with Steve this is big plus for the league in every aspect. It was interesting to see how excited Dick Ebersal was at the press conference. The NHLPA must be happy with just under 7 million per team per year. It is an exciting time the the NHL and its fans.

  13. Dave Sullivan says:

    The NHL will be on NBC for sixteen consecutive years. I just wanted to write that, to see how it looked. That will obliterate the previous record held by CBS, which NBC tied this year. This is the kind of continuity you usually only see in the other sports. I also would’ve liked to see all seven games of the Stanley Cup on NBC, but you take what you can get. What I don’t want to see in the future is any SC games scheduled back-to-back. That’s ridiculous. Doing that in the first round is one thing; but after these guys have been through the ringer for six weeks, it’s a lot to ask them to play within 24 hours in the culmination of the season. But I like NBC’s coverage – and not just the NHL, but SNF, Notre Dame, &c.

    Sports Media Watch speculated that Versus will be renamed NBC Sports Net, which makes sense to me. In one stroke, NBC Sports Group could become what we’ve all wanted and needed: a legitimate rival to ESPN/ABC. Between them and Fox, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with the Olympics.

  14. SG says:

    Steve,
    Do you know if the new contract comes with an annual limit of how many times a certain team can be televised on NBC/VS?

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