Sports | March 11, 2021 10:44 am

NHL Returning to ESPN for 2021-22 Season in $2.8 Billion Deal That Includes Streaming Rights

The new seven-year pact should provide a big boost to ESPN+

The NHL logo seen on a scoreboard.
A general view of the NHL logo on a scoreboard.
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty

The National Hockey League and ESPN are back together again for the first time since 2005 after agreeing to a seven-year deal that will begin with the 2021-22 season.

The Worldwide Leader and the NHL announced a deal valued at $2.8 billion that will bring four out of the next seven Stanley Cup Finals to ABC and 25 regular-season games to ESPN and ABC.

If that sounds a bit underwhelming, consider that the deal also includes extensive streaming rights that will bring 75 national games to ESPN+ and Hulu, exclusively. In another twist, the current NHL TV package — which has more than 1,000 out-of-market games — will move to ESPN+. Basically, ESPN+ will be a must-have for NHL fans starting with next season.

“This is a transformative time in media, especially sports media. It puts us on the cutting edge of content distribution with a great linear package as well as a forward-looking strategy, focusing on the impact of streaming,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “This is a win, win, win. A win for ESPN and The Walt Disney Company, a win for the NHL, and most importantly, a win for fans.”

There is another shoe to drop as the NHL has yet to announce a second media partner, which will could be NBC. Comcast, NBCUniversal’s parent company, agreed to pay the NHL $1.9 billion for 10 years of rights in 2011.

“The question now becomes — who gets the next package?,” according to The Sports Business Journal. “Bettman said that he heard from several suitors already today, including NBC. Sources told me that negotiations between NBC and the NHL had been strained over the past several weeks, especially as it pertains to price. Fox also has shown interest, but it has not had meaningful talks recently as its execs have tried to complete an NFL deal. Turner engaged early on in the process. Sources said it would be interested in a deal if the price comes down far enough.”

While it is a great deal for the NHL and should help to bring the league back into the mainstream, the amount ESPN is paying pales in comparison to the $100 billion the NFL is expected to demand in its forthcoming TV deals. That being said, it will be great to see hockey back on ESPN after largely being ignored by the network for well over a decade.

“This agreement clearly underscores The Walt Disney Company’s leadership in the sports media landscape and serves as a blueprint for sports deals in the future,” said ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro. “We know the power of the NHL and are thrilled to welcome it back as a significant new pillar across our platforms, and we look forward to connecting more deeply and directly with some of the sports world’s most passionate fans.”