Tuesday, April 19, 2011

NHL Agrees To Stay With NBC/Versus for Next 10 Years

Over the past few months there has been speculation as to where the NHL would be spending its next TV deal.  This afternoon the speculation ended with NBC and Versus announcing they signed a new 10 year, $2B deal to keep the NHL on their respective networks.  The other suitors over the course of the negotiations included: Fox, Turner and ESPN.  In the end the NHL is staying where it has been with an increased price and with some new wrinkles to the product.

According to Sports Business Daily some of the new wrinkles include:
The deal will see NBC and Versus carry all Stanley Cup playoff games nationally, with the conference semis appearing exclusively on the two nets. 
One of the biggest gripes I have with the NHL playoffs is that the league had not figured out a way to air all of the games to allow fans to watch as much hockey as they want and choose their games.  Using the full assortment of NBC affiliated channels to do so is a great move to further advance the NHL audience.
It also will see NBC and Versus televise 100 regular-season games, including a new Thanksgiving Friday telecast on NBC. 
The idea have adding a Thanksgiving Friday game is an interesting one with the number of families that are together and there is little on after all the football of Thanksgiving day.  This move also moves the hockey season up into the national space earlier in the year than just starting it around the Winter Classic.

NBC has committed to a national "Game of the Week" and Winter Classic, and Versus will televise a national "Game of the Week," plus the All-Star Game, NHL Premiere Games, NHL Faceoff and any future NHL Heritage Classic games in Canada. NBC and Versus will continue to share the rights to the Stanley Cup Final.
As part of the deal, NBC Sports Group agreed to build a new studio for NHL Network in Stamford, Conn. The deal also includes targeted promotions across the Comcast/NBCUniversal TV and digital assets.
Promotion is always a key in gaining market share for a product so any increase in the promotion of the sport is a good thing.

The $200 million annual fee for the NHL rights is a dramatic increase from the current $77.5 million that Versus currently pays for the rights.  The previous record was $120 millionduring the '99-'04 seasons while the NHL was on ESPN.

Reactions about the deal are mixed amongst fans as many wanted the game to go to ESPN and get more of a marketing push.  ESPN is the largest sports media outlet in the US and between showing, promoting and featuring highlights of the game they would have a great opportunity to push the game to a more mainstream audience. 

Versus does not appear to offer that sort of mainstream access that many thought ESPN might.  Versus has improved the quality of its coverage since the merger NBC/Comcast so there is hope that will continue through the life of this contract.  Ultimately it will come down to whether NBC/Versus can create an atmosphere enjoyable for the fans to watch the game or what will end up is the NHL and NBC end up with a good deal and the fans end up with something they dont enjoy for the next decade.