FOX, Turner Enter the NHL Rights Fray

From John Ourand and Terry Lefton of Sports Business Journal:

Fox and Turner are taking an early look at the NHL’s cable TV package, raising the likelihood that the league will have a competitive bidding process — with as many as four networks — as it negotiates new TV deals this year.


Versus’ exclusive negotiating window ended in late January, leading the league to send out feelers to several networks to gauge interest in the NHL’s TV rights. The league reached out to ESPN, which held the NHL’s TV rights from 1992 to 2004, and is still engaged in talks with Versus, its current rights holder.


But the league’s outreach to Fox and Turner shows that it wants to build an auction process that will push the TV rights package well above the $77.5 million annual payout it gets from Versus.


Sources at those two programming groups said that while things still are in the exploratory stage, they are interested in examining the rights package further.


Fox has been looking to add sports to its FX cable channel, and many of its regional sports networks have deals with NHL teams. Turner could be interested in bringing more sports to its TruTV cable channel. In March, TruTV will begin telecasting some NCAA Tournament games.


While they’ve been happy with the production quality, some NHL executives have been frustrated with the overall visibility of Versus, which still is not available in many bars and restaurants. It also has the lowest distribution of the potential networks. ESPN2 is in 99 million homes, FX is in 96 million homes, TruTV is in 92 million homes and Versus is in 76 million homes.



14 Responses to FOX, Turner Enter the NHL Rights Fray

  1. Stephen says:

    I’m sorry, but those networks trying to get the NHL rights, their going to lose it. Dick Ebersol is a smart man. He already has the NBC Sports Group already formed and they will beat out those networks. I hope that VERSUS and NBC will keep the rights to the NHL.

  2. leafsfan1967 says:

    I think it’s good news that there’s more competition on this now. What the NHL needs is a channel which respects their product, which Versus does, but they also need distribution into more homes, which Versus can’t give. Other major sports are able to spread their product around to different channels and it works well for them.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  3. kevin says:

    I also hope that Versus keeps the NHL. They have proved that they care about the NHL with doubleheaders during the playoffs every night. Kevin

  4. William Chernow says:

    This is a step in the right direction for the NHL. I hope they end up with Comcast/NBC. The next step is to promote the games heavily. I’ve been watching NBC and havent seen one commercial for the game on Sunday. I think they should look at moving the games back at least 1/2 hour to 1pm. People are already geared into a routine through football.

    • Stephen says:

      I agree with you. Because the ratings will keep going lower. Especially when its still the morning hours in the West Coast. I will say this, that if the NHL stays on the Comcast/NBC, then next season for the NHL on NBC is hopefully regional coverage returns back or maybe a doubleheader kind as well. Will see what it’ll come.

  5. William Chernow says:

    I like the idea of a double header, it will give people a chance to see the western conference teams. If there really is a “bidding war” for NHL rights, now is the time to ask for expanded coverage. If the NFL and NBA go on strike (I’m praying for a long, long, long NBA strike) this can only help. Does anyone know NBC’s Saturday night ratings? This week they are showing reruns of law and order. Maybe the NHL brass can do something in that time slot, if you put marquee matchups on you might catch lightning in a bottle

    • Stephen says:

      Well, we know that the NFL is already going in a lockout, so we don’t have to worry about that. Even though I’m a football fan. Also, I hope that there will be an NBA Lockout as well because I don’t like basketball and I never will. So that means, the NHL can do doubleheader games on Thanksgiving and even on Christmas Day as well. It will be great to do for the NHL on NBC. That way, they can get the ratings they want.

    • Arthur says:

      Follow the money people. NHL is hot right now with great ratings for playoffs and other leagues potentially locking themselves out.
      NHL will look for maximum rights fees for its product. NBC has not paid a dime for it. Versus has paid approx $70mil for it. NHL will want double that I assume. Where does that extra money come from? Comcast has plenty, but so does ESPN, Fox and Turner.
      Baseball and basketball airs on multiple networks. Will hockey be next?

      • nosferatu says:

        No reason to think the NHL can’t/shouldn’t be on multiple networks. I mean, that’s a really logical step in terms of more exposure. I’ve been saying for a year or two now that I’d like to see FX get secondary rights, after Comcast/NBC.

        Think about all the positives: Playoff time, more games make it on the air for people without Center Ice in the first two rounds. And, you’d have promotion for games across the entire Comcast platform, plus promotion on Fox.

        The idea should be to cast a wider net. I think it can definitely work.

  6. ike says:

    Whoever gets the contract needs to do what NBC did a couple of weeks ago, during Hockey Day in America, when it had regional games on, then a marquee game at 3. Kinda like the NFL does. Obviously they cant do this during football season, but after football is over, why not?

    They could possibly even do something like this on their cable partner, say on Friday or Saturday night, when you have at least 10 games going. When its cold out in January on a weekend night, I would like to see hockey on instead of bull riding.

  7. Larry says:

    I guarantee ya that cable and national rights go to FOX & NBC. NHL ditched FOX for ESPN way back when and did not even hear FOXs rebid. Which left FOX very bitter. Google and you will know what I’m talking about. Any way a high NHL executive who is still w the league was quoted as saying FOX was innovative with camera angles n glowing puck, intermissions, and game air time coverage. Still some of the highest ratings the league had on national stage. NHL john collins has been quoted several times this year about contracts being about distribution and on many platforms. FOX will get games on Saturday and wed/thur. FOX would even air saturday nights once in awhile like they do for baseball. NBC versus will retain sun mon tue. ESPN will showcase NCAA like mad during NBA NFL lockout.

  8. Mad Mike says:

    Forget it. This article is trying to make something out of nothing. It sounds to me like the league is cold-calling the other networks to drive up the price by creating the false appearance of an actual auction. If these other networks were really serious, they would have gone to the NHL first, not the other way around. FOX is a bitter ex-girlfriend. If Turner were involved, the Thrashers would have been saved by now.

    Let’s be realistic. There is only one serious player, and that’s Comcast. They are on the warpath. A few years back they tried a hostile takeover of Disney. Now that they’ve bought up controlling interest in NBC, they will use Versus to go head-to-head against ESPN/ABC. For that, they need some pro league sports contract, and the NHL is the obvious choice. They already own one of the NHL teams (Philadelphia Flyers) and have established local sports markets by buying up previous Fox Sports affiliates. ESPN has no interest in hockey as a product (else they would be covering it already) and would only do so to compete with Versus. But, given their viewership reach and ubiquitous household name as a sports network, they are already far ahead. They’ll make Comcast pay for the rights, but won’t seriously outbid them.

    The NHL is stuck with Versus, and they both know it. The best the league can hope for is to drive up the price to maximize what they can get out of what is basically a monopoly.

    • Stephen says:

      I agree with you. Besides, look what Turner Sports already have: the NBA, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the MLB, and NASCAR. What more do they want? Then, FOX Sports already has the NFL, NASCAR, and the MLB.

      And then you got ESPN which I now hate the most. They got NASCAR, Basketball (which I hate the most), MLB, and Football. Every Thursday, they do Hockey Night and that’s it. Plus, on the bottom line, they show the scores from last night and preview of NHL just real quick like they don’t even care about the game no more.

      I’ll say this before, Dick Ebersol is a smart man. He already has formed the NBC Sports Group with VERSUS joining it as well. He has all the money he has. So don’t worry about it. NBC and VERSUS are going to keep the NHL right there.

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