NHL U.S. Broadcast Rights: A Decision That Could Shape The Sports Future

Alright, this is not the typical article this site posts. It is however a fascinating situation that is unfolding with pretty low key coverage. The NHL’s United States Broadcast Contract with NBC(Comcast) is ending at the conclusion of the current season. If there is one thing people can certain will happen it is that the NHL is due for a payday. This contract is significant for the league as their $2 billion over 10 years contract concludes. The biggest reason this contract suggests a pending pop is every other comparable sports league is making significantly more than $200 million annually from their broadcasting deals.

The impact of Covid-19 on the current NHL season has had a more significant negative impact on the leagues overall financial situation than other comparable professional sports leagues. The most obvious reason for this is the NHL relies more on gate revenue than other leagues. Leagues like the NBA, NFL, and MLB have TV contracts that generate massive amount of income which softened the blow fan-less stadiums. The Covid-19 pandemic showed the NHL their current contract is undervalued and it is necessary to negotiate a massive deal in this next contract.

The purpose of this article is to inform people what the future could look like. Also I really show my hand as to the direction I believe the league should go.

The Likely Candidates:

NBC: The NHL could choose to stick with NBC again, which really has not been horrible thus far. In my personal opinion no company should have the sole rights for a sporting event. It eliminates competition which also eliminates innovation. That said it would not be the end of a hockey fans world if the NHL decided to stick solely with NBC again, as long as the $$$ is right.

ESPN/ABC: Yeah, ESPN/ABC or in terms of parent companies Disney, would not be a bad option either. Although, my fear in giving these players a piece of the contract is the sport would still get buried by other comparable pro leagues they currently have rights to. As a hockey fan I want to see the sport not necessarily on top, but certainly not chosen last for national coverage in this matter. Maybe ESPN puts more on their current sports media personalities plates and asks them to cover hockey equally, but I personally I question how much they will actually market the sport with a bank full of other sports coverage. That said it would be neat to catch a game on ESPN or even Disney+. At the very least it would be nice to see a little competition to NBC if ESPN/ABC do get a slice of the broadcast rights.

Fox: I actually like Fox as an option a lot. After selling a large portion of their company to Disney and a not super loaded professional sports lineup, I think Fox could devote a lot of energy and focus to the NHL. They also provide a solid competing force to NBC which could do a lot for innovation and promoting the sport. That said their reach is more limited than NBC and ESPN/ABC, so I do not think they would be as good of a solo rights option.

Amazon: Boom. This is the company that needs more than a slice. My personal favorite. If the NHL gave sole rights to anyone it should be this company. Nothing says push for the future more than being the first league ever to sign an exclusively non-cable deal with Amazon. I can not really see the NHL dropping NBC like this, but Amazon is the only company I would want in a sole rights role. Amazon has the largest reach, the most money, and the best technology. At the very least this company should be a major player when this next deal is signed. Realistically, I am not sure if Amazon is ready to push for sole rights, but I do think this would be the perfect opportunity for them to acquire their largest sports coverage contract to date. Also with the Seattle Kraken making their debut next season, would it not be pretty epic to watch their first game on Prime Video?

CBS: Similar to situation to Fox, but there has definitely been less reported interest from CBS than the other company’s listed. I think they would a solid combo partner with a lot of potential to promote the League.

Best Case: The best case scenario is the league is split between 2-3 of these companies with my personal favorite option being a tandem of NBC, Fox, and Amazon. Does that mean it will be these 3? No. For all I know, it is none of them. I personally just think these 3 have the best platform and reach to promote and innovate for the sport. It may not even be a split deal, the NHL could get 1 massive unmatchable offer for sole right and sign on the spot. I do think the NHL should really look heavily at getting Amazon involved in the conversation.

  • CFTP – B. Driscoll

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