The NHL, The Walt Disney Co. and ESPN on Tuesday announced an agreement on a seven-year, U.S. television, streaming and media rights deal beginning next season and running through the 2027-28 season.
The agreement, which returns NHL games to Disney and ESPN for the first time since 2004, includes exclusive coverage of the Stanley Cup Final on ABC in four of its seven years with the ability to simulcast on ESPN+ and additional ESPN networks.
"Our new partnership harnesses the power of The Walt Disney Co. and its multitude of platforms," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "It puts us on the cutting edge of content distribution: a great linear package with all Stanley Cup Final games in the package on ABC and a consistent regular-season schedule as well as a forward-looking strategy focusing on the impact of streaming. This is a win-win-win: a win for ESPN and The Walt Disney Co., a win for the NHL, and, most important, a win for fans. We could not be more thrilled."
Each season, ABC and ESPN will show 25 regular-season games on national telecasts; opening-night games; the NHL All-Star Game and NHL All-Star Skills; half of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including one of the conference final series; plus other special events. An additional 75 national telecasts of regular-season games each season will be produced by ESPN and stream exclusively on ESPN+ and Hulu.
More than 1,000 regular-season games in the NHL's out-of-market streaming package (formerly NHL.TV) will also be available exclusively as part of an ESPN+ subscription.
"Streaming really is at the heart of this deal, and this is a reflection of its role as a critical part of our future," said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN and sports content for The Walt Disney Co. "ESPN+ will now be a must-have for hockey fans. And as we're already seeing on social, this deal is going to make a lot of people happy, including a lot of ESPN employees who are incredibly passionate about the NHL and are very excited to dig in. ... We're excited to be back and to be back in such a big way."
The agreement includes highlight rights to be featured on ESPN, the ESPN app and social media; and international media rights, including in Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Europe.
"We really look forward to giving fans unprecedented access to an incredible lineup of NHL games and programming," said Bob Chapek, chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Co. "I know how passionate and loyal hockey fans can be growing up as a Chicago Blackhawks fan, and this agreement is going to allow them to watch their favorite teams like never before on our world-class platforms, including ESPN, ESPN+, ABC and Hulu. So we're really excited about this new partnership and the value that it represents not only to Disney but the League and sports fans around the world."
The NHL plans to focus over the next few weeks on negotiating with other potential broadcast partners about a deal for additional U.S. television media rights, which include national telecasts of regular-season games, the other half of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Stanley Cup Final in three of the next seven seasons. Commissioner Bettman said NBC Sports, whose exclusive 10-year contract with the NHL expires after this season, is among the networks interested in the remaining U.S. media rights.
"They've been good partners, and as we move forward we're going to continue our dialogue with them and see if we can get it all together and continue what has been a very productive relationship for both of us," the Commissioner said.
Pitaro said he'd been interested in acquiring the rights to NHL games since he joined ESPN three years ago. Commissioner Bettman said he and Pitaro informally discussed the possibility shortly after that, and, with the agreement with NBC Sports nearing its end, negotiations heated up over the past two months.
"I think the capabilities that ESPN continuously demonstrates in terms of how they cover and promote sports will help continue to grow our game," Commissioner Bettman said. "That was an attractive element of doing the package. I have complete confidence in Jimmy and how he's going to have his team treat NHL hockey, and I think their reach, particularly for young people, will continue our growth."
Behind the mutual interest in an NHL-ESPN reunion was the belief each could help the other.
"The idea is to make the League, the games more accessible to core existing fans and at the same time to leverage our platforms, including studio, to grow the game, to expand it, make it more attractive, use our platforms to showcase NHL stars," Pitaro said. "We're pretty good at this, and we have many employees and many executives over here who are very excited to get going, who have been waiting for this moment, who have been waiting for the opportunity to reengage and partner again with the League. So I'm very optimistic in terms of our ability to help the sport grow, help the League grow, and provide greater access to fans across our platforms, both linear and digital."