The NHL Returns to ESPN

The NHL Returns to ESPN

Jack Kelly, Staff Writer

The NHL is making a return to ESPN. The worldwide leader in sports and NHL agreed to a seven year deal, which brings hockey back to the station for the first time since 2004. The multi-year deal with ESPN, which is owned by The Walt Disney Company, is projected to be worth around $2.8 billion, and will bring more live hockey games to screens across the globe, with rights in Latin America, parts of Europe and the Caribbean also included in the deal. 

The new deal starts in the 2021-22 season and includes 25 regular season games on ESPN or ABC each year. It also includes an early round playoff series and a conference final each year, as well as four of the next 7 Stanley Cup Final broadcasts on NBC. There will also be more than 1,000 games streamed per season on ESPN’s ESPN+. ESPN + was launched back in April of 2018 and is a subscription based feature which allows customers to stream live out of market games, as well as other live sports and shows hosted by ESPN hosts, such as Stephen A. Smith. Games will also be streamed on the streaming platform Hulu. With all of this combined, ESPN+ and Hulu will have 75 exclusive broadcasts per season produced by ESPN, which will reach roughly 51 million subscribers across both platforms (ESPN+ 12 million/ Hulu 39.4 million). The new TV deal also has games on the NHL’s opening night, the NHL All Star game and Skills challenge included. NHL.TV, the NHL’s live stream service for out of market games will now be moving to ESPN+ as part of its offerings.

This isn’t the first time that NHL hockey has been featured on ESPN however. ESPN broadcasted the sport starting in 1979 and continued to do so for the next nine years. Following that time was a hiatus until ESPN became the home of the NHL starting in 1992 and running up until 2004. Ever since then, NBC has had the exclusive broadcasts for the NHL.

It is unknown at the time who will be the announcers of these ESPN broadcasts. However, the NHL and ESPN fan base have been rooting for the return of Gary Thorne. The well known broadcaster was the voice of the ESPN broadcasts from 1992-2004. 

In a statement released shortly after the deal was announced, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, “Not only will this groundbreaking, seven-year deal enable the NHL to benefit from the incomparable power, reach and influence of The Walt Disney Company and ABC/ESPN, it sets a new standard in delivering our game to the most passionate and tech-savvy fans in sports in the ways they now demand and on the platforms they use.” 

The partnership between the NHL and NBC may not be over, even after this deal. The long time partners purchased the rights back in 2005 for roughly $70 million per season. A deal can still be made, as people familiar with the situation say that negotiations are still ongoing. NBC has also recently launched its own streaming service, known as Peacock, which could be utilized as a similar feature in a deal as ESPN will use ESPN+, but time will tell if the NHL and NBC get to terms on a deal.