NEW YORK — ABC and ESPN officially announced Tuesday that they’ve signed a five-year agreement for the national television rights to the National Hockey League for $600 million (Daily Variety, Aug. 21). The deal begins with the 2000-2001 NHL season.
Fox has the rights to the 1999-2000 season, but Fox, ABC/ESPN and the NHL are anxious for Fox to sell its final season to ABC/ESPN.
“Nobody wants a lame-duck season,” said one person close to the situation.
They added that negotiations have begun for Fox to sell its rights to ABC/ESPN, but it was too early to tell if a deal would occur.
Executives from Fox and the NHL all said they expected Fox to televise the NHL next year.
“We’re under contract to Fox,” said Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, at a press conference Tuesday. “Everybody should assume we’ll be on Fox next year.”
ESPN paid considerably more than the previous NHL contracts. Fox paid $155 million for its current four-year deal and ESPN had forked over about $100 million for a seven-year national cable package in the past.
Despite the large price hike, Steve Bornstein, president and CEO of ESPN and president of ABC Sports, proclaimed that the Disney-owned networks will make a profit on the deal.
Bornstein said because his company has both the cable and broadcast network rights to the NHL, his networks will be able to heavily cross promote the games, which should lead to higher ratings. Bornstein also said he expects the addition of three new expansion teams in the United States to boost interest in the NHL.
In addition, ESPN will have the exclusive rights to regular-season telecasts on the cable network — the first time that the NHL has sold exclusive rights. This means that on the nights of ESPN NHL telecasts, there will be no regional coverage of the games.
The new NHL deal calls for up to 200 games per year to air on ESPN and ESPN2. ESPN will carry up to 27 regular season games as well as comprehensive coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including Games One and Two.
ABC will televise between four and seven regular season games, the All-Star Game, up to six weekends of early round playoff game coverage and up to five primetime games of the Stanley Cup Finals.