It’s been a long time since the NHL has been on ESPN airwaves and the relationship between Bristol and hockey fans… and even the ability of the sport to draw at a national level has been under a microscope ever since.

The NHL has made a lot of progress in the ten plus years that they’ve been with OLN/Versus/NBCSN. At the start of that deal in the mid-2000’s, the NHL was coming off a brutal lockout that canceled an entire season. As part of that first deal, the NHL entered into a revenue sharing agreement with NBC on broadcast and drew $65 million from OLN in 2005-2006. Ratings and revenue have certainly gone up for the league as their most recent contract between the NHL and NBC in 2011 came at 10 years and 2 BILLION dollars. When the league originally left ESPN for the Outdoor Life Network, I’m willing to guess that not many people thought a deal like that would be possible.

The NHL has been the exclusive property of NBC and their cable outlet for well over a decade now. And while ESPN has been left out of the NHL picture, they do air college hockey and also won the rights to the recent World Cup of Hockey. And yes, in spite of the sometimes frosty relationship between NHL fans and ESPN, there are several on-air personalities at the network that are huge hockey fans. One of those is SportsCenter anchor and college hockey play by play man John Buccigross, who shared with BSN Denver that he is optimistic the network will be back in the game with the NHL this time around.

“I’m real optimistic that we’ll be a part of the NHL plan next time,” Buccigross told BSN Denver. “I’m not in the negotiations or decisions, but the negotiations open up in two years, and the (NBC) deal ends in three. There’s no doubt ESPN (was) very aggressive last time trying to get the package, and we’ll be very aggressive this time.. and I feel good about our chances to get some.. to have games in the next package.”

[…]

“Now, whether the NHL is going to go with multiple partners, like very other sport does. … you know, you can’t afford the NFL (alone), because every game is national obviously, there’s no local games. The NBA, there’s so many games (that) we share with TNT. And baseball has a million. So whether or not we split it and we have some and another carrier has some, we’ll see,” said Buccigross, who said he considered leaving ESPN to be a play-by-play man for two NHL teams before renewing his contract.

“But yeah, I think we’re in a position, with our new BAM investment that we made with MLB Media, that’s a huge technology investment that ESPN and Disney have made (and we’ll own the whole thing soon, 100 percent of it) that’s going to give us a great position, tech-wise, for apps and things and the future of streaming. I think we would be a very attractive partner, with obviously plenty of networks and plenty of channels.”

The NHL going back to ESPN is an interesting thought, isn’t it? The NBC partnership has been great for the NHL over the last ten years. It brought the league from teetering on the brink of relevance back to solid footing on the national stage. We’ve seen some of the most highly rated Stanley Cup games in history, dynasties in Chicago and Pittsburgh rise up, the advent of the Winter Classic, and a lot more positives from the relationship. Furthermore, NHL fans know they have a reliable, invested partner who is “all in” on hockey with the sport being their number one emphasis.

It’s difficult to see ESPN winning an entire package of NHL rights with their deals with the NBA, NFL, MLB, college basketball, and college football. There’s just not that much room on the schedule. And it’s equally as difficult to see NBC give up a significant chunk of its NHL inventory because NBCSN depends on those games to carry them through the sports year.

The NHL knows they won’t get the same treatment from ESPN… but they will get increased exposure. It’s up to the NHL to ask themselves whether or not they’ve gone as far as they can go with solely being on NBC and NBCSN. Is it time to split the package up and at least get some Stanley Cup playoff and regular season games on ESPN? Does ESPN3 and ESPN’s streaming platform make sense for some games going into the 2020s?

ESPN has been slowly inching their way back into the sport over the last few years. And with the NHL seeking some more mainstream national exposure, perhaps a reunion with ESPN would help everybody.

[BSN Denver]

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

  • Joe in SS

    With the exception of Doc Emrick, NBC’s hockey coverage is, to paraphrase an NBC marketing campaign, “[the commentators] you love to hate.” NBCSN has largely tapped out their reach, so the increased exposure on the WWL could do nothing but help.

    • Matt Galvin

      Steve Levy and Barry Melrose would be ESPN main Anchor crew.

    • Brian

      Not true. Who would ESPN use? Levy and Buccigross? I would only watch it on ESPN if they brought Gary Thorne back!! Buccigross is not good at play by play. NBC’s mistake is promoting Kenny Albert. Chris Cutbert should be their number 2.

    • Tigercat919

      It’s too bad John Forslund is the secondary guy for NBCSN, he has a lot more hockey sense.

  • Dale Moog

    I would love to see the NHL have a few games on ESPN but where would you put them they have 1000 college Basketball games and College football all fall with NBA taking major priority they could pick up a few games on say Thursday nights from January thru the end of the season after college football is over and shift College hoops to the second tier networks. They could maybe even do Tuesday nights wedging it in between College basketball If they sold ESPN a 20 game package for the second half of the season for Tuesday and Thursday night games it might work. NBCSN would keep Wednesday Rival night and Monday night with Tuesday night during the fall. ESPN could also a few midweek first round playoff games.

    • Matt Galvin

      Could do Stanley Cup ever other year on ABC.

      • eddie

        it may go to nbc sports of stanley cup final on nbc of game 1 to 7 on nbc

  • Lirodon

    Personally, I actually think the NHL coming back to Fox in some form would be a more likely scenario. They’ve grown and matured since the last time (though I’m sure they’d come up with some StatCast gimmicks to replace the glowing puck), and they’ve got regional rights to quite a few teams (so there’s already the possibility that FS1 could leach off their resources or simulcast them, much like they do for those Saturday baseball games. Then you could drag FS2, FX and/or FXX in for the playoffs).

    They would need to work around college basketball and football (especially given that the NHL’s flagship national cable window on both sides of the border is on Wednesday nights — which is also a traditional flagship night for college basketball) unless they want to demote it to FS2. Or, they should go by the NBA and MLB’s example and split it up. AT&T may be a dark horse too once the Turner purchase closes (since they got the Penguins and Knights)

    • Shawn Diiorio

      Because Fox will overpay to get whatever they want. Then the players will get even more money and the cap will be over 100 million.

    • Dale Moog

      The Knights? I did not know that AT&T sportsnet was in Las Vegas. I think the NHL will split the national rights like the NBA did 15 years ago going with NBC/NBCSN and FS1/FS2 for cable rights. they would do something like Monday and Wednesday nights on NBCSN and Friday nights on FS1 with playoff games on FS1/ FS2 and NBCSN CNBC and NBC. they would stay away from thursday night because of NFL/College Football and NBA

      • eddie

        well i want collage footbal on nbc to be back in the future because there are the first one to telecast in the past. i hope it will comeback in the future

    • eddie

      it might be on turner sports because at&t and time warner merger last year and it might became stronger on turner sports in the future and that my opinion about turner

      • Lirodon

        I don’t think so. AT&T only has two teams (one big one, and one literal startup). Plus, Turner has invested heavily in basketball and baseball as their main national sports properties (NBA, NCAA tournament), much like ESPN, so I don’t think they would want to add something that conflicts with both.

  • Jean H Pierre

    NHL is the centerpiece of NBCSN programming. The marriage has been rock solid from the beginning. It’ll be difficult for NHL to go back to a network that offered on $60million for the rights in 2005. Stay at NBC SPORTS GROUP.

  • Karl

    ESPN’s aware that they’re coverage of anything immediately boosts the visibility, they will not pay the going “market rate” for any NHL package but there’s no doubt the NHL (and yes, NBC) would be helped out by any ESPN involvement to help promote their product. The bigger issue is that ESPN has no shortage of content for most of the NHL season unless they were interested in paring back on college basketball (which could very well be true) or NBA (not a chance in hell).

  • DrewShervin

    Love John Mishegoss

  • MrBull

    The NHL should tell espn when rebuild you online NHL coverage then come talk to us…

  • Larry kern

    ESPN sucks stick with the spelling Bees

  • Joe Leonard

    Fuck ESPN. NBC has them in the preferred position. Will ESPN really broaden their reach where they will.take less money to be red headed step children yet again. Their coverage of the NHL sucks now as it is. Not even sure if anyone at ESPN knows how to spell hockey, other than at the spelling bee…

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  • Jon

    ESPN’s featured story on its webpage Saturday morning was summer pro basketball, with the MLB season in full swing and the NFL preseason gearing up. So the network’s really all-in on promiting the NBA more than it is with any other sport — which is no shock, given the $12.5B contract ESPN/Disney signed with the league three years ago. They’ve got to make that money back somehow.

    But it’s something the NHL does have to think about if they do anything more than throw ESPN a few bones as far as national coverage. The league is NBCSN’s leading attraction right now — over at The Worldwide Leader in Sports, they’d be the weak second fiddle to the NBA come playoff time, and to college basketball, the NFL and college football earlier in the regular season.

    • eddie

      i think espn like espn/espn2 and nbc sports like nbc/nbcsn/cnbc/usa will win the bid or fox sports like fox/fs1/fs2/fx/fxx or cbs sports like cbs/cbssn or turner sports like tnt/tbs/trutv/hln. what ever who wins the nhl rights in 2021 ?

  • eddie

    here my predict media rights for nhl

  • woocane

    Hate to say it, but it’s much better for the NHL to have a deal with ESPN. NBC has done its best, but ESPN is by far the bigger platform, even ESPN2. Far more people get ESPN and ESPN2. If you’re traveling and in a hotel, odds are you won’t get NBCSN. Many bars won’t have NBCSN. And if you have a deal with ESPN, they’ll start showing more of your highlights on Sportscenter and will probably start again an NHL Tonight kind of show, probably not daily, but at least weekly. NHL doesn’t need ESPN, but would greatly benefit from it.

    • inku palios

      If ESPN wants to buy rights to the NHL, sell the rights to the MLS to NBC for a bargain.

      • eddie

        espn might get on mls and nhl in 2021

  • eddie

    nbc sports and espn might win the bid or turner sports and fox sports or cbs sports might bid ?

  • Tigercat919

    If anything, I would expect the NHL to get a deal with Fox at some point. As valuable as a relationship with ESPN would be, it is debatable as to whether or not ESPN would actually give the NHL a fair shot. After all, the only way how ESPN would ever treat the NHL with any respect is if LeBron, Tebow or Kaepernick suddenly started playing.

    I predict that Fox will beat out NBC during the next American TV contract cycle and start airing NHL games in FS1/2. Sure, FS1 is not as big as ESPN but it’s still bigger and more appealing to the masses than NBCSN.