ESPN Hoping to Score Wayne Gretzky as NHL Broadcaster
It's unclear if hockey’s all-time leading scorer is interested in taking a TV role
After deciding to end the freeze out on its hockey coverage and signing on to resume broadcasting the NHL again starting with the 2021-22 season, ESPN is hoping to recruit the Great One to The Worldwide Leader.
Per The Athletic, ESPN has pitched Wayne Gretzky about a broadcasting role and, though it is unclear if he is actually interested, the network hasn’t been given a “no.”
Gretzky, hockey’s all-time leading scorer, is an alternate governor for the Edmonton Oilers, which could be a factor in his decision to accept or decline the role. “If Gretzky were to sign on with ESPN, it would be the biggest name available wrapped up in the ongoing roster push for on-air talent by both ESPN and Turner Sports as they position themselves to take over as United States national broadcast partners starting with the 2021-22 season and lasting through the 2028-29 season,” according to the Athletic.
As mentioned above, Turner Sports — TNT and TBS — will also be a broadcast partner for the NHL starting next season and is in the process of recruiting on-air talent. And a potential bidding war for Gretzky could be on the way, as Turner also has an interest in signing the all-time great, according to Front Office Sports.
It would probably take an annual salary of $5 million or more a year to convince 60-year-old Gretzky to hop into the studio or broadcast booth, a talent agent told FOS. To lock up the name recognition that comes along Gretzky, who holds or shares 61 NHL records including most goals, assists and points, that’s actually a somewhat reasonable price to pay.
“If ESPN is paying $400 million a year for the NHL, why would they quibble about paying Gretzky $5 million a year?” one TV executive asked FOS. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
With Gretzky’s status up in the air, Turner has already agreed to terms with Kenny Albert and Eddie Olczyk to serve as the lead broadcaster and analyst, respectively, for the network’s NHL coverage.
“You can’t overstate the importance of having a quality lead broadcast team when you acquire a new sports property — it is your gateway to viewers,” writes The Athletic senior sports media reporter Richard Deitsch. “Albert and Olckyk have a ton of equity with NHL viewers given their long tenure at NBC (and in Albert’s case, Fox as well.) To lock them up this quickly — at least by verbal agreement — is a terrific move by Turner Sports management.”
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