The big news in the hockey world today is that of the NHL’s new contract with NBC Universal. Over the next ten years, the NHL seems to be drastically expanding its media profile via NBC and its various networks and platforms. Of course, this is being presented as something great for hockey. However, like anything else with the NHL, I’ll believe it when I see it. To me, this looks like a giant extension of what’s already happening anyway, dressed up like something revolutionary.
In essence, this is the EDGE Uniform System of television rights deals. Lots of pomp and circumstance when introduced, and nothing but frustration when actually put into action.
And as a hockey fan, I’m not happy about this. Once again, the NHL will look bad, hockey coverage will be the same minimal amount as it has been, and the sport won’t grow. Once again, Gary Bettman has gotten a white elephant of a contract, and is trying to sell it to a fanbase that isn’t buying it. Once again, once again.
The basic parameters of the contract are the following:
- 10 years, through 2020-21.
- $200 million per year, $120 million more than what the NHL receives now.
- NBC/Versus is still the exclusive home of the NHL on cable.
- There will be 100 exclusive regular-season games over the course of the season.
- NBC and Versus will have exclusive timeslots for hockey.
- Every playoff game will have national distribution in the United States.
- From the second round on, every playoff game will have exclusive coverage by NBC/Versus in the United States.
- Promotion across NBC’s various networks and digital platforms.
Sounds pretty good, right? Sounds like this is going to be pretty awesome? Naturally, with almost any type of celebratory press release, the truth is in the details. Let’s break each of those points down, shall we?
TEN YEARS, THROUGH 2020-21, $2 BILLION
$2 billion, that’s a lot of money! And sure, $200 million per year seems like a lot, especially when the previous contract was for only $80 million per year. Breaking it down, that’s $120 million more, $4 million more for each team, et cetera. It also seems like a lot because “$200 million, that’s a lot of money!”
That is, until you look at MLB’s latest contracts worth $3 billion per year, for only 7 years. That works out to $428 million per year.
Or, the king of U.S. television, the NFL. That league is getting $3 billion per year. Per year. That blows the NHL’s contracts out of the water.
There’s always the NBA, you might say. They’ve got the same general calendar, same number of teams and games. Right now, the NBA makes $930 million per year for all of its broadcast rights, a figure that blows the NHL out of the water.
Once again, in terms of raw dollars, this deal is a distant, distant 4th place. The NHL, among movers and shakers in the know, again looks bad.
NBC/VERSUS IS STILL THE EXCLUSIVE HOME OF THE NHL, 100 EXCLUSIVE GAMES
Again, this is something that looks great on paper, but really isn’t much of a good thing. If more games and more exposure is what the NHL and us fans are looking for, it won’t be found with this.
Actually, this arrangement is pretty much what the NHL has now. In 2010-11, Versus telecast 78 games, while NBC telecast 13 games, for a total of 91 games. Therefore, by increasing to 100 games…the NHL has increased its national footprint by NINE WHOLE GAMES!
In comparision, Versus covered 65 games in 2009-10, bumping their total by 13 this year. The NHL saw a bigger increase from last season to this one, than from this season to the first under this great new TV contract.
What this will most likely do is simply bump a couple games to Versus on an exclusive basis, instead of having local coverage for the teams involved while the rest of the country watches on Versus. Or, there will basically be no tangible effect, as one or two games per team over a season will amount to nothing.
Also, by making NBC and Versus the exclusive channel for hockey, the NHL eliminates the chance to have another broadcasting partner (and the money/coverage that would come with it). Like with most other exclusive partnerships, Bettman traded a negligible amount of money for an arrangement that ultimately hurts the league. It’s no wonder that no other North American sports league has such an arrangement.
NBC AND VERSUS WILL HAVE EXCLUSIVE TIMESLOTS FOR HOCKEY
This is, once again, another thing that the NHL already has. NBC’s Sunday coverage is already scheduled to be the only game at that time, and many Monday nights on Versus feature the single game on that night.
This isn’t something that needs promoting, because it’s already there. Of course, I could say that this is in there because there is so little else to promote. But I won’t do that.
Instead, I just want to point out that having an exclusive timeslot is worthless if said timeslot is a bad one.
Right now, the NHL’s Game Of The Week comes on NBC at 12:30 pm on Sunday afternoon. Not only is that a half-hour earlier than when NFL games begin, but the NHL is typically a lead-in to golf, bull riding, extreme sports, or something else.
If this truly was a great contract, the NHL would be the featured product of the day, not the lead-in to the crap we make fun of for not really being a sport. It’s embarrassing, and just sad that the NHL is shoehorned in between infomercials and the PBR. Again, no other major sport has such a minor-league deal.
One small change here is that there will be some coverage on NBC during Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. While this could lead to more exposure, I think this will be more of a one-time event, independent of the rest of the season. What the NHL needs is more time on NBC from the Winter Classic on, and this Thanksgiving game should be a beach head to more games on broadcast TV in the fall. However, given the parameters of this contract, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
EVERY PLAYOFF GAME WILL HAVE NATIONAL DISTRIBUTION IN THE UNITED STATES
I can’t fault the NHL on this, as this actually could be a good thing. On one hand, we could see every game! On the other hand, I look forward to 2012′s equivalent of Anaheim/Nashville on G4, CNBC, or somewhere obscure (and embarrassing!). Or, those games will get put on a NBC-owned network outside of basic cable, as the network tries to force NHL fans to get cable companies to support a fledgling channel.
In other words, it’ll be just like the NHL on OLN.
FROM THE SECOND ROUND ON, NBC/VERSUS WILL HAVE EXCLUSIVITY
For NBC, this is a good thing. For those local broadcasters for each team, it is not. This does nothing to increase the NHL’s footprint, all this does is take games away from local broadcasters. Essentially, those second round games that NBC gains is why the dollar amount has gone up.
Going by the press releases, it seems like NBC Universal only wants the NHL for the playoffs and Winter Classic, as everything else is filler.
Even Dick Ebersol thinks so, going by this quote from NHL.com:
“(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).”
This deal comes down to NBC and Versus getting another exclusive round of the playoffs, doubling the number of series they can exclusively cover.
However, what this will mean is still more of the same for NBC, and slightly more on Versus. Again, from the NHL.com press release:
“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.”
There will be, in short, two weekends during the second round and one weekend during the conference finals where there’s a game on Saturday and a game on Sunday. We have this arrangement now. You just saw it, for example, last weekend. The Red Wings/Coyotes game was on Saturday, the Capitals/Rangers game was on Sunday, both on NBC. We’re going to be getting a lot more of that minimal arrangement, with no primetime games until the Stanley Cup Finals, no playoff doubleheaders, nothing more. Just more of the same, for a little bit more money.
PROMOTION ACROSS NBC’S VARIOUS PLATFORMS
I took look forward to NHL commercials on NBC programming, a couple cursory mentions during NFL games, and the occasional hockey cameo on Jay Leno. This is simply a filler point, nothing more. Although really, ‘nothing more’ sums up the contract well.
In short, could we have expected anything less? Every hockey fan feels that the league can grow by leaps and bounds, but the leadership has the attitude of a fifth-place league. And when you think you’re a loser, you eventually become a loser. That’s what is happening here.
If the NHL is so great, why didn’t the league negotiate for more games on NBC, specifically? Why didn’t the league push for more coverage during the regular season on NBC, especially when there is so little else they are airing? Why didn’t the NHL have something in place if the NFL ends up not playing in 2011?
The reason, of course, is Gary Bettman. For his entire reign as commissioner, Bettman never manages to show any spine when it comes to American negotiation. He always takes whatever the worst, initial offer is, and then tries to pass it off as an achievement. Time and time again, the NHL gets the short end of the stick, as Bettman seems to merely kiss ass instead of drive a hard bargain. That happened again today.
Meanwhile, when there’s someone that Gary can have power over, he tries to squeeze every drop of that power out. Octopi in Detroit? Call the police! Sean Avery makes a tasteless joke? Make a big deal out of suspending him!
This is a loser deal. I cannot believe the owners do not do something about this. I could have negotiated a better deal, and I’m some 23-year-old kid. The collective wisdom of hockey fans on the internet could
have gotten a better arrangement, simply by looking at the numbers and applying common sense.
Like you, I love hockey. I love the NHL, love my team, love the sport. And like so many times before, I just have to grin and bear it when my sport does something embarrassing like this. I guess I should just be used to it by now.
Filed Under: NHL
About the Author: Gordon is currently looking to enter the world of journalism, while spending his free time at either the University of Michigan or the Joe Louis Arena.