NHL Could Start Bidding War in Next Rights Deal

By Tripp Mickle and John Ourand of Sports Business Journal (sub. req.):

Early signs suggest that a bidding war is developing. The league is

expected to enter an exclusive negotiating period with Versus later

this year, and Versus has made no secret of its desire to renew with

the NHL, which consistently brings the highest ratings to the

Comcast-owned sports channel. NBC also has said that it would like to

keep its rights package.

But others are lurking. ESPN said it wants to be involved. And sources

said Fox Sports is considering whether to bid on a package.

The ACC’s most recent media deal showed how multiple bidders can drive

up rights fees. Sources said that ESPN increased its bid by $35

million per year once Fox Sports showed interest in the conference’s

rights earlier this spring.

NHL executives have worked quietly behind the scenes to fuel that kind

of interest. During the Vancouver Olympics in February, for example,

NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins was spotted at a high-top

table before the first U.S.-Canada hockey game chatting with ESPN

President George Bodenheimer. Four months later, Collins took in Game

6 of the Stanley Cup Final with NBC Sports & Olympics Chairman Dick

Ebersol. He’s had informal contact with top executives at almost every

TV network.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and

Collins will lead negotiations, which are set to formally begin when

Versus exercises an option to open an exclusive negotiation window.

From there, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen.

2 Responses to NHL Could Start Bidding War in Next Rights Deal

  1. Wayne stuck in AL says:

    Please, PLEASE, PUH-LEEZE keep it off The Worldwide Leader!!! Their radio and SportsCenter hosts have spent the past 5-plus years bashing/ignoring the NHL, so screw ’em…

  2. Chris says:

    I don’t see anyway that Versus won’t retain their rights. The NHL may decide to split cable rights, but in that case, Versus is sure to have at least part of them. I think at the end of it all it’ll be status quo: Versus will show 2-3 games a week, and have virtually all playoff coverage, while NBC will have the Winter Classic, weekend games wherever they can fit them, and most of the Stanley Cup Final. The only change I see is NBC will probably air a few more games than they used to and pay a small rights fee, at least in comparison to Versus.

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