Reunited, and it feels so good. The National Hockey League will be back on ESPN in the fall after 16 years as the league and cable net have agreed to a new seven-year TV deal. It’s the latest stint for the NHL on the Disney-owned Worldwide Leader, which aired games at various times during the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s, but not since 2004.
The news comes as the league’s 10-year pact with NBC Sports is set to expire at the current Covid-shortened season’s end in late spring or early summer.
The new agreement begins in the 2021-22 season and includes games on ABC, ESPN, ESPN+ and Hulu. Starting in October — when the league hopes to resume its regular non-virus schedule — 25 regular-season games will air on ESPN or ABC, along with early-round playoff games and one conference final each year. There will be four Stanley Cup Final series on ABC and more than 1,000 games per season streaming on ESPN+.
The deal includes opening-night games, the NHL All-Star Game and Skills Challenge and other special events. The NHL’s out-of-market streaming package (NHL.TV) is also moving to ESPN+ as part of its subscription offerings. ESPN+ and Hulu will be the home to 75 ESPN-produced exclusive telecasts per season.
The pact also covers international rights in Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Europe.
“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,” longtime NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
Said Jimmy Pitaro, the chairman of ESPN and Sports Content for Disney: “This agreement clearly underscores the Walt Disney Company’s leadership in the sports media landscape and serves as a blueprint for sports deals in the future. We know the power of the NHL and are thrilled to welcome it back as a significant new pillar across our platforms, and we look forward to connecting more deeply and directly with some of the sports world’s most passionate fans.”
The announcement of the new deal took a start-stop tack, with an official news release being posted Tuesday night but when taken down. Confirmation came Wednesday afternoon.
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