One of the big stories in the sports world that not all fans may be aware of is the massive TV contracts that are dropping everywhere. Just last week, the Big 12 was pretty much saved from extinction by a 13 year deal with Fox. Today, it's being reported that the NHL has signed a new deal with NBC/Comcast to keep the league on their networks including NBC and Versus. Yahoo reports that the deal is for 10 years. The league had been in contact with ESPN, Turner, and Fox during negotiations as well. Here's some of the details from Sports Business Daily...
"NBC and Versus have agreed to a deal to renew the NHL’s TV rights, according to execs close to the deal. A formal announcement is expected to come this afternoon. Specific deal terms are not known, but the bidding had gone above $200M per year. Fox pulled out of the bidding last week, and Turner pulled out yesterday, saying it could not find a business model to support the money the NHL appears to be getting in this negotiation. The NHL never came back to ESPN with a final bid, sources said. ESPN’s interest in picking up the package stayed until the end of the bidding process. But sources said it was too difficult for the NHL and ESPN to work around NBC and Versus’ matching rights."
Whatever those dollar figures end up being, it will be a huge increase for the NHL and an encouraging sign for the league's future. Remember, this league was on the brink of disaster just over a decade ago after an entire season was lost (are you listening David Stern). The excellent Puck Daddy puts the NHL's recent TV negotiations into perspective...
"It's pretty incredible, thinking back to the lockout, how far the League has rebounded. We've gone from the NHL taking Comcast's money to go on something called OLN after ESPN low-balled them, to having ESPN in a bidding war to reacquire hockey, with the TV rights jacked up.
The Winter Classic, the Stanley Cup Finals and conference finals are all rating well. There are at least eight or nine marketable teams for U.S. TV, even if NBC only shows about four of them. The League's top stars are, by and large, under the age of 30, and branching out into popular culture.
It's a good time to be the NHL, and to be in business with the NHL."
Sticking with NBC will be a good move for the NHL in the long run because they can be one of the top sports properties for NBC and whatever VS ends up being. SBJ's John Ourand (a must follow on Twitter if you're interested in this kind of thing) says that Versus will eventually be rebranded with NBC Sports. For this deal to be a true success for the NHL though, Versus is going to have to up its game dramatically by reaching more homes and improving its overall programming quality. A more profound synergy with NBC Sports is likely to help in that area as they beef up their portfolio.
***Update: I asked John on Twitter what NBC may be looking to add to NHL programming and here was his very interesting response...
Ourand_SBJ @awfulannouncing Everything from Olympics to NFL to MLB. Comcast/NBC will be at the table for almost every rights deal coming up.
So, it looks like NBC/Comcast will be working hard to add more feature sports programming to their networks. If they can acquire something as big as NFL or MLB, maybe a new NBC powered sports cable channel could step up as a legitimate challenger (not competitor necessarily) to ESPN.
Overall, this is a better deal for the network than moving to ESPN, where they would always be fourth or fifth on the network platforms behind the NFL, MLB, NBA, and college football. Yes, the ESPN machine sounds good to respective leagues, but Bristol hasn't exactly done a lot for NASCAR, and the NHL would probably stagnate as a secondary property for the network. By staying with NBC/Comcast, the league can better continue the momentum they have built in the last decade.
NBC, Versus Set To Announce Deal To Retain NHL TV Rights - Sports Business Journal