If a report from Sportsnet is to be believed, the NHL and ESPN are working toward a seven-year TV rights deal that is believed to include the broadcasting rights to four Stanley Cup Finals from 2022-2028:

This is huge news for hockey fans on a number of levels. The current owner of the league’s exclusive TV rights effectively undercut the legitimacy when they announced earlier this year they’d be folding NBC Sports Network by the end of the year, sending some properties -including the NHL- to USA Network. That could be beneficial to the NHL, as USA is available in more homes nationwide than the soon-to-be defunct NBCSN, but it’s not a great way to end the current TV deal.

There had been questions surrounding the viability of a big money TV rights deal, especially with many sports leagues around the world seeing a decline in overall ratings. There have been rumblings in hockey and media circles for over a year that ESPN would look to get back into the hockey game, though likely as a partial rights owner rather than the exclusive rights holder.

It might seem like the secondary piece of this puzzle, a deal with NBC, would make. the most sense, but I won’t believe that until the ink has dried. While I don’t expect FOX to make a late push -especially after they made a marginal attempt to prevent the German Bundesliga from leaving for ESPN+- the fact remains that FOX is investing money in their FS1 programming, as evidenced by the outrageous four-year deal they signed Skip Bayless to in the past week.

The entity that could make a strong final push is CBS. They’re pouring massive capitol into advertising and fleshing out content for their streaming platform Paramount+. To date, they have an impressive list of live sports properties including:

  • The NFL on CBS
  • The Masters
  • March Madness
  • The PGA Championship
  • UEFA Champions League
  • UEFA Europa League
  • UEFA Europa Conference League
  • Liga Profesional de Futbol (Argentina)
  • Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A (Brazil)
  • NWSL

Sure, they’re soccer heavy, but be an interesting addition to a diverse portfolio of sports properties. Plus, the NHL season’s typical scheduling window provides only a few conflicts, unlike what ESPN will be juggling with crossover NHL/NBA dates. It’s entirely possible that the NHL opts to stick with NBC as a partial owner of the league’s TV rights in the US, but it would be fair to deem the network’s recent actions -including sending the Flyers/Bruins game in Lake Tahoe to NBCSN in lieu of preempting a rerun of “The Wall” and “The Weakest Link”- in determining the long-term viability and value they provide.

While some might point out the likelihood that ESPN will still give priority to their NBA coverage, which isn’t entirely unlikely, the biggest sports network in the country will now have financial incentive to pay the sport more than just cursory attention.

This is a big deal for the NHL and hockey fans around the country. Now, bring back Gary Thorne.

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