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Turner-ing the Channel

Turner Sports joins ESPN as co-rights holder for televised games and digital, cross-platform content, officially ending its run on NBC. Hockey fans will see more pucks, programming and promotion

by Bob Condor / @SeattleKraken /

The NHL found its second dance partner for media rights Tuesday. Fans will no doubt be busting out moves across multiple platforms and devices for the Kraken's first seven seasons. Turner Sports and the league landed a seven-year deal, matching the contract length of the previously announced ESPN first-position agreement.

"We think the arrangements we have now are much more reflective of the value that we bring as compelling content," N.H.L. Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a Tuesday news conference. "Creating a wider distribution base is only going to continue to grow the sport and help it skew younger."

The arrangements now include four Stanley Cup finals on Disney-owned ABC/ESPN and the other three on TNT. It's a departure from hockey's crown-jewel series available on the big four networks, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, which will a 16-season affiliation with the NHL when it broadcasts the Stanley Cup Final and professional sport's most authentic trophy this summer. The deal also switches the New Year's Day Winter Classic to TNT.

But Turner's TNT network is in 90 million U.S. households and certainly has proven to be popular and highly discoverable for sports fans, especially those tuning into to see former NBA stars Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal and Kenny Smith banter with "Inside the NBA" studio host Ernie Johnson moderating and quipping too. Hockey can now dream about some crossover talk from "Charles" and "Shaq."

"I am more than comfortable with TNT, which [90 million homes] is almost the equivalent of any broadcast network," Bettman said. "As you look at what's happening to the various platforms for all content, content is being spread, it's not just on linear anymore."

"I think that there's a style to Turner Sports and there's an approach, and we want to bring that approach to the N.H.L. here," said Jeff Zucker, the chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports, which owns and operates Turner Sports.

Turner Sports will present up to 72 regular-season games and half of the first three Stanley Cup playoffs rounds each season. Perhaps as importantly, the agreement covers a wide range of digital content that includes streaming live games on another Warner-owned property, HBO Max.

Turner's website Bleacher Report will receive extended highlight rights, positive news for fans who enjoy Bleacher Report's "House of Highlights," known for a distinctive style and Gen-Z audience. If you don't know who's Gen-Z (born 1997 or later), the point is the NHL braintrust does.

Tweet from @NHL: The National Hockey League and Turner Sports, a division of @WarnerMedia, have reached an historic seven-year multimedia rights agreement.@NHLdotcom has more ������

"As we look to the future and a younger demographic, having Bleacher Report and HBO Max, these are places that we are going to be moving to and I think that's going to be great for our fans," Bettman said.

While Turner and ESPN both will now air NHL, NBA, MLB and college basketball, Bettman and Zucker seemed unfazed by any schedule conflicts (there is an attempt to stagger later-postseason dates across NHL and NBA series). Bettman specifically pointed to a potential major lift of cross-promotion for hockey (Charles and Shaq at the Winter Classic, anyone?).

The Turner deal reportedly adds at least $225 million annually to league and team revenues as the second broadcast and multimedia partner. Combined with the ESPN agreement, the U.S. media package will now be more than double what NBC and ESPN (expanded digital rights with Disney Streaming Services) have been paying the NHL yearly.

It all starts with the 2021-22 season when the Kraken open play. Where it goes from there will likely coincide with sports fans habits-whether we watch games on TVs, tablets, phones, certain watches and, well, devices still to be invented. Zucker said "as consumers continue to skate to where the puck is, we will be there."

Turner Sports will offer "TV Everywhere" rights that will allow its networks to make NHL games and related programming available to "authenticated subscribers across all WarnerMedia platforms."

For a refresher on the ESPN deal and its components, here's summary from ESPN senior writer and my former colleague at Yahoo Sports, Greg Wyshynski:

ESPN and the NHL announced a seven-year deal in March, returning hockey to ESPN for the first time since 2004. Included will be 25 regular-season games on ESPN or ABC, plus early-round playoff series 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+.

ESPN+ and Hulu will be home to 75 ESPN-produced exclusive telecasts per season. The deal also includes opening-night games, the NHL All-Star Game and skills challenge and other special events.

International rights in Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Europe are also part of the deal, as are extensive highlight rights for ESPN's digital platforms. The NHL's out-of-market streaming package (NHL.TV) is also moving to ESPN+ as part of its subscription offerings.

"Having WarnerMedia join the NHL family as co-rightsholders for the next seven years gives us incredible reach and positions us well for the future as the media landscape continues to evolve," said Bettman. "It will fuel continued growth for the NHL and our clubs."

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