In a deal that will deliver more nationally televised hockey to American fans than ever before, the National Hockey League and the NBC Sports Group have reached agreement on a record 10-year television and media rights deal, taking the partnership through the 2020-21 season.
NBC remains the exclusive network home of the NHL and Versus stays as the exclusive cable home of the NHL in the United States. NBC and Versus will both feature exclusive "Game of the Week" time slots during the regular season. Between them, NBC and Versus will telecast 100 exclusive regular-season games, nearly double this just-completed regular season total.
Even better news for NHL fans in the U.S.: This deal marks the first-ever national distribution of all Stanley Cup Playoffs games, including, for the first time, exclusive coverage starting with the League conference semifinals. Dick Ebersol, chairman of the NBC Sports Group, told assembled media at NHL offices in New York (plus others on a conference call) that every postseason game will be broadcast in entirety on NBC, Versus or "a major NBC Universal national cable channel."
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he "couldn't be happier" to renew the relationship and "the promise of what NBC Universal/Comcast is going to be is exciting." He noted the sport of hockey will now be discussed, promoted and celebrated on 20 NBC Universal networks and another 40-plus digital platforms.
Industry observers were widely impressed with the decade-length of the deal after months of reporting on the League's courting by several suitors.
"This is the most significant U.S. media rights partnership in the League's history," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. "NBC Universal / Comcast is one of the most important, connected and ‘wired' media companies in the U.S., and as the potential of the NBC Sports Group is realized, the importance of our relationship will become more apparent to hockey fans and our business partners."
Ebersol, who announced Versus is "no more than 90 days away" from changing its name to one with NBC in it, said exclusivity during the playoffs is "the most important thing" in the record 10-year deal because "it is a two-month season that vibrates."
"I like the rabid fan base in each and every city during the playoffs," Ebersol told NHL.com. "That doesn't exist in every city in other sports, that deep level of rabidness. That's not to say you won't see it in some cities. It's that in the NHL it is rabid in every city (and arena).
Along with the NBC/Versus share for the Cup Final, Ebersol said that starting with the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, of a possible 28 games during the NHL's second round, 24 will be broadcast in full on Versus and another four on NBC. For the conference finals, 12 of the possible 14 games will be on Versus and the other two on NBC.
The new agreement calls for the NBC Sports Group to have a national NBC broadcast on Thanksgiving Friday.
During the regular season, NBC will continue to broadcast the NHL Winter Classic and "Hockey Day in America." Versus will telecast its exclusive national "Game of the Week," plus NHL Premiere Games, NHL Faceoff, the NHL All-Star Game and any future NHL Heritage Classic outdoor games in Canada.
The NBC Sports Group's commitment includes building a new studio for NHL Network at its existing facility in Stamford, Conn.
"NBC Sports and Comcast have been fantastic partners," Bettman said. "They have provided incredible coverage of our sport and have teamed with us to deliver the best TV viewership figures in three decades. It is a credit to our players, our great game and our outstanding fans that Brian Roberts, Steve Burke, Dick Ebersol and their teams would make a commitment of this scale. We also know the best is yet to come."
Author: Bob Condor | NHL.com Editor-in-Chief