ESPN/NHL DEAL SHOULD END FLYERS FANS’ COMPLAINTS, BUT IT WON’T!

By Jenny Masters

For years Flyers fans and NHL fans writ large have been complaining that their fave sport wasn’t getting its due because NBC didn’t properly market the sport it has nationally televised for 15 years.

And it complained that ESPN ignored the game on TV and online because it didn’t have the TV rights and therefore didn’t have skin in the game so why bother?

Now they have nothing to complain about.

Because on Wednesday, ESPN and the NHL announced a new, wide-ranging TV deal which, among other details, would bring 25 exclusive regular season games to ABC or ESPN along with four Stanley Cup Finals and half of the playoffs over the next seven seasons.

There was plenty of enthusiasm for the new contract, along with some expected wariness and disappointment. And all these feeling are justified: there’s a lot to unpack in the deal, with clear benefits and drawbacks.

As with most contracts and agreements in the sports media landscape (and beyond), there are winners and losers to this deal. Here’s our best attempt at identifying them in this deal.

Winner: ESPN. This is an obvious one. ESPN wanted hockey back, and they got hockey back. The network adds the NHL to its busy winter calendar with the NBA, college basketball, and the ever-present UFC. Another championship event, the Stanley Cup Final, will be added to ESPN’s portfolio (airing on ABC), along with a litany of playoff games. The fact that this is also reportedly the NHL’s top package, rather than a secondary one, puts ESPN into prime position among the NHL’s TV partners. It’s also huge for ESPN to have rights deals with all of the “Big Four” (regardless of whether or not you think a Big Four still exists, but that’s another conversation), giving the network incentive to provide airtime to sports other than the NFL or NBA.

Loser: NBC Sports. NBC is still expected to be one of the NHL’s TV partners (though a deal hasn’t been announced quite yet), but this is still quite a blow after sticking with the NHL after all these years, through the good and the bad. While NBC would retain the Stanley Cup Final in alternating years and half the playoff series each year, it loses its status as the NHL’s main broadcast partner. Additionally, many of the NHL’s tentpole regular season events are also leaving NBC for ABC/ESPN in the new TV deal, including the Faceoff opening night games, the All-Star Game and Skills contest, and potentially (though not officially designated) the outdoor games as well.

And if, at the end of this new deal, the NHL is still stuck in fourth place behind the NFL, NBA and MLB in the hearts and minds of America, maybe it belong there!

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