Today, Dick Ebersole of NBC and Gary Bettman of the NHL have a press conference scheduled for 1:00, to announce the rumored agreement of the NHL’s new TV deal. The deal is reported as $200 million per year over the next ten years. ESPN and Turner Sports had been in the running, but Turner dropped out yesterday. NBC/Versus had the right to match any ESPN offer, but the league took NBC’s deal before giving ESPN one final chance.
Pro-ESPN people bring up that the Worldwide Leader will increase the NHL’s marketability. They will also say that ESPN is in more households, therefore bringing more viewers in. More highlights on Sportscenter is also a positive. Those are good points, but where would the NHL fit in on ESPN’s busy schedule. ESPN isn’t just going to shove aside MLB/NFL/NBA to squeeze in hockey.
But, what about the potential 2011 lockouts in the NFL and NBA? That’ll open up slots, right? Sure, it would be great until the other leagues settle on new CBAs and get back to playing. Where does that leave the NHL? I’m sure this was a concern Bettman and company had while negotiating with ESPN.
However, despite those concerns, NBC/Versus has done some good for the NHL. After the lockout, and ESPN insulted the league with a very low offer, OLN took a chance and the NHL has grown exponentially. I admit, I had no idea where the Outdoor Life Network was on my cable lineup at first. But ratings have grown each year. The Winter Classic was an NBC creation, and this year’s game was the highest viewed regular season game since 1975, even beating out a college football bowl game on ESPN.
The real question is, does Versus continue as its’ cycling-cage fighting-bull riding channel, or does it change under NBC? Since the channel added the NHL (and changed it’s name and image), it’s added college football, and the National Lacrosse League as well. Could the NHL deal help Versus evolve into an ESPN-like channel, or even a threat to ESPN? The channel has shown interest in the MLS’ TV rights.
One real concern of NBC/Versus I can agree with is the lack of diversity of teams who are broadcast. More than likely, a random game will feature Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, the Rangers or Washington. That will be needed to change for two reasons. One, to expose the fans of the NHL to other teams such as the Lightning, Kings, Sharks, to name a few. Secondly, to not overexpose people to the same teams and players. If people see too many doses of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, among others, they will become disinterested. There has to be a happy balance between marketing and overmarketing.
If NBC wins the Winter Olympic bidding in 2014, one would assume the league would agree to send its’ players to Russia for the games.
Would I have loved to see a deal like the NBA has (ESPN & TNT)? Absolutely. More hockey is good for everyone. Unfortunately for us, they either couldn’t agree on that type of deal, or the proposal was never offered.
Please share your comments, concerns or questions.