Inside the New Era of NHL TV featuring ESPN and TurnerTheWrap
105-year-old hockey league starts over with new partners, new team and massive streaming bet
The 2021-22 season will be a year of firsts for the 105-year-old professional hockey league. The first time he had two partners; the first time TNT will broadcast professional hockey games; the first season of the Seattle Kraken, the newest franchise in the Emerald City league; and the first time around, the vast majority of NHL games will be available to those without a cable or satellite subscription.
Whether this will translate into increased popularity and viewers remains to be seen. But you can’t fault leaders for being optimistic.
The league is looking to increase its popularity with fans at a time when live sports have never been more important to big media companies. Just ask Disney and WarnerMedia, who will collectively pay around $ 625 million in reproduction rights each year for the next seven years, more than tripling the NHL volume of its former TV partner, NBCUniversal.
The NHL has seen what having multiple national television partners has done for other major professional sports leagues.
“It was very important to our discussions and very important to how we modeled what the next series of television relations would look like. We have obviously seen with the other leagues what that means in terms of cross promotion,” told TheWrap. David Proper, NHL Senior Executive Vice President, International and Media Strategy “Different networks, and certainly different media groups, attract different fan bases.”
There is an argument to be made that over the past 16 years, the growth in popularity of the NHL has stalled on NBC, as it has been underrated on ESPN shows like “SportsCenter.” NBC had hoped to use the NHL to support its ESPN competitor, NBCSN, but that never came to fruition. NBCSN will close at the end of the year.
If you ask the leaders of the NHL, they don’t exactly disprove this idea.
“My perception, and I think most people’s perception, and there’s nothing wrong with that, is that ESPN would be more focused on their product. They will attract audiences to their programming, ”Proper said. “I think they’ve got us covered. I don’t necessarily think they covered us as extensively as they perhaps would have if we had been with them. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman shared similar sentiments with TheWrap in March.
But not everyone shares this point of view. “I don’t believe the NHL was injured being out of ESPN. It seems out of place. I have the power to be the only true 24/7 live content provider with a strategic sports news organization, but when the NBC deal was done things were different, ”Pat Crakes , a former Fox Sports executive who now works as a consultant. “How do you rate the increased exposure to a segment NHL fans in studio shows on ESPN with broadcast general market exposure of the game on NBC? “
But everyone is agree that returning to ESPN is the best move for everyone (including NBC, who Crakes says will have to pay more to retain their Premier League rights, which are a higher priority). “ESPN is actually more powerful today in the news and discussion space as it is the only real player on a large scale,” Crakes added.
The union between the NHL and Turner was seen as a surprise to both parties: Turner never had a national TV package with the NHL (although Turner Sports did touch on local coverage). The addition of professional hockey games on Wednesday nights will move the still fledgling All Elite Wrestling League to TBS.
But the NHL and Turner believe the network can adapt the highly successful strategy used for the NBA over the past three decades and give the league a boost with a younger audience.
“Turner has a secret sauce and we’ve seen it, especially with the NBA, and their ability to speak to young people, to hipsters, to that kind of market,” Proper said. “They are so willing to do new things and try different things. And they have such a unique sight. And I think they’re pushing people to push other leagues to do smart things that we couldn’t do or think otherwise. “
The NHL lags behind other major professional American sports. Last year’s Stanley Cup Finals averaged 2.5 million viewers for a five-game streak between the Tampa Bay Lightning, compared with 2 million which saw the Lighting beat the Dallas Stars in six games. ; like the NBA, the last two seasons of the NHL have been greatly disrupted and delayed by the pandemic.
In 2019, the last time the league was on its regular schedule, the seven-game streak between the St. Louis Blues and the Boston Bruins averaged 5.3 million viewers.
NBC shares the Stanley Cup between its broadcast network and the cable channel NBCSN. Under its new deal, the Stanley Cup will alternate between ABC and TNT every two years.
Turner executives believe they can adapt their NBA recipe. “Our overall approach is authenticity,” Tara August, senior vice president of talent relations and special projects, told reporters on a conference call last week. “And I think that’s what resonates with the fans, when they see one of our covers is that our advertisers, our game advertisers, or studio advertisers, they talk like you talk at home. It’s conversational, it’s cool, we don’t mind them making fun of themselves or each other.
One of the ways TNT seeks to emulate its NBA success is with its studio show. He brought some of the NHL faces from NBC like Liam McHugh and Anson Carter. But the biggest example of how seriously Turner takes his new toy was the hiring of Wayne Gretzky as a studio analyst, pulling him away from his front office job with the Edmonton Oilers.
Gretzky is in awe of the “Inside the NBA” team, which has long been the gold standard for sports studio broadcasts.
“What they do is so special and so unique,” Gretzky told reporters, saying that a big part of the success of “Inside the NBA” was the hosts’ willingness to bicker. You can’t always agree on everything, but you have to appreciate and believe what you say, and we’re going to bring it to every show.
Both NHL deals, along with the NFL’s new $ 100 billion media deals, signal a shift to streaming when it comes to live sports.
“We’re very optimistic about this kind of back-and-forth between linear and digital, and it can help really grow the brand and the sport. And I hope that if it does, others will see this as a great role model for them too, ”Proper said.
ESPN’s deal includes 75 exclusive games streamed each season, three times more than the 25 games that will air on ESPN and ABC. For Turner, they have the option of eventually putting games on HBO Max, which Proper expects to happen “at some point” during the term of the deal.
“We were very attached to the world of linear television. It is our bread and our butter. But we believe the digital world opens up opportunities and different fan bases and different audiences, ”Proper said. “HBO Max, obviously, isn’t known for programming live sports games. They do sports programming, this live game push program, it’s going to be really interesting to see how their user base embraces it. live sports programming and our fan base is going out there to watch live sports programming, that could be a really interesting development for both of us.
ESPN executives, meanwhile, expect so many NHL games to be added, so give ESPN + a boost, even if it gets a little help from Hulu. , said TheWrap. Hulu has more than 42 million subscribers, nearly three times the 14.9 million ESPN + has.
“We watched this [deal] and said, here’s an opportunity to really take everything the Walt Disney Company has to play with and bring it together to make a truly unique and interesting chord, ”adds Wolff.
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