Wednesday, May 5, 2021

An entreVIEW Post From the State of Hockey

Pavlov has his bell, and ESPN has this! At last, after a 17-year absence, that musical masterpiece will again grace the airwaves in the homes of hockey-crazed Americans across the country. 

This March, it was announced that the little brother of the “Big Four” would be re-joining its much larger brethren at the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” under a new seven-year deal. The deal gives the Walt Disney Co., the parent company of ESPN, the rights to certain NHL events and games, spread across traditional television and the ever-growing streaming platforms. Included will be 25 regular-season games on ESPN or ABC, early-round playoff series and one conference final each year, four Stanley Cup Final series on ABC and more than 1,000 games per season streaming on ESPN+. In addition, ESPN+ and Hulu will be home to 75 ESPN-produced exclusive telecasts per season. The NHL has also struck a deal with Turner Sports for the “B Coverage” — here’s to hoping the NHL can get Charles Barkley to take a respite from "Inside the NBA" to cover a few hockey games. 

But why would the announcement of a nearly $650 million per year TV deal (a strong uptick from its current $200 million per year deal with NBC) belong on entreVIEW? Well in the 17 years since it last aired on ESPN, the NHL has put on a masterclass in marketing and strategic growth. 

  • Fresh off the termination of the original ESPN deal and the subsequent cancellation of the 2004-2005 season due to a labor lockout, the NHL signed a three-year deal with OLN (the now extinct Outdoor Life Network) to the tune of $70 million per year. While the deal did not make a large splash financially and largely forced the NHL out of the national spotlight for a number of years, it did open the door to OLN’s parent Comcast. Comcast acquired NBC Universal in 2011 and soon the NHL had itself a new 10 year $200 million per year TV deal. 
  • Strategic moves by commissioner Gary Bettman, such as ensuring all playoff games are nationally televised, releasing highlights and clips of every single game played (since 2005-2006) to YouTube, and unencumbering video highlights have led to the NHL having record viewership this year. In turn, this record viewership has led directly to the shiny new and substantially more lucrative tv deals with ESPN and Turner, respectively. 

Just another example of how vision can help a business can forge a long-term strategy through leveraging key strategic relationships. 

For the NHL, this return to the mainstream is a relief. For hockey fans, this new deal is vindication — the sport they love to watch is not fading into obscurity. For the casual sports fan, this is good as well — the new deal should mean a little more Linda Cohn and Steve Levy and a little less Max Kellerman and Mike Greenberg every day on SportsCenter. And for fans of the local NHL franchise in the State of Hockey, maybe just in time to see more highlights of its outstanding rookie, Kirill Kaprizov.

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