Cabler nixes Hockey League b'cast option

The National Hockey League, which lost the entire 2004-05 season to a labor dispute, got high-sticked by ESPN, which said it will not pick up its option to carry NHL games next season for $60 million.

In a conference call Tuesday with reporters, Mark Shapiro, exec VP of programming for ESPN, said if hockey comes back in 2005-06, its games will be worth “well below half of $60 million.”

The NHL deal with NBC Universal Sports calls for no license fees for the rights to some post-season games and the Stanley Cup Finals. Instead of license fees, NBC shares advertising revenues with the NHL, but only after deducting the cost of producing the games. If the ratings are weak, which they have tended to be in the past few years, neither side will see much dollar reward from the revenue sharing.

ESPN has taken a tough stance with the NHL because the replacement programming scheduled by the network for missing NHL games in 2004-05 — especially college basketball — almost invariably drew more viewers than hockey.

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