NBC Sports Wins $2B NHL Faceoff
New 10-year deal provides additional exclusivities
By Jon Lafayette -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/19/2011 10:58:20 AM
Versus, which was paying $77 million a year for the cable rights to NHL games became part of the NBC Sports Group when its owner, Comcast, acquired a majority of NBC Universal earlier this year. NBC held the broadcast rights to the NHL under a revenue sharing pact. The new rights deal is worth at least double what the league had been receiving under the previous arrangement.
Officials from the league and NBC declined to comment on the amount, although they did confirm that NBC was paying a rights fee, rather than continuing the revenue share arrangement.
"We are staying in business together, at least for the next 10 years," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman during a conference call announcing the deal.
The new deal increases the number of games that will be televised nationally to 100, including the Game of the Week on NBC.
Versus will have exclusivity for more of the games it shows on cable, making them more attractive to advertisers.
During the playoffs, NBC Sports Group will televise every playoff game. If three games are played at the same time, one of the games will appear on a major NBC cable channel, according to Dick Ebersol, chairman of the NBC Sports Group. NBC Sports will also have exclusivity in the second round of the playoffs, which means those games will not be televised by the teams' regional sports networks.
NBC, which has built the Winter Classic game on New Year's Day into a significant event, also plans to create a new franchise game on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
NBC Sports Group also acquired digital rights across all platforms and devices for the games it televises.
NBC Sports Group will also be building a new studio for NHL Network in Stamford, Conn.
"There is nothing that fits the NBC Sports Group better on all platforms than the NHL," said Ebersol.
Ebersol added that a new name for the Versus channel would be announced in the next 90 days. The new name will prominently include the NBC brand. NBC has already added its branding to channels that had been part of the Comcast portfolio including The Golf Channel and its regional sports networks.
The deal marks a continued comeback for the NHL, which was badly hurt by a lockout during the 2004-05 season and ditched by ESPN in 2005. That pushed the league onto the little watched channel Versus and into a revenue sharing deal with NBC.
Bettman said he did not regret making the revenue sharing deal with NBC and that NBC as a partner had been instrumental in helping to build the league.
ESPN and Turner Broadcasting had also been interested in rights to the NHL, particularly in exclusive coverage of the playoffs, but Bettman said it became clear the league would stick with its incumbent. He said the NHL could be' the single biggest beneficiary" of the combination of Comcast and NBCU.
"We are disciplined in our approach to negotiating sports rights and are committed to providing quality programming that matters to our audience, advertisers and distribution partners," said David Levy, president of Turner Advertising, Distribution and Sports. "We think the NHL is an attractive property but we could not come up with a business model that served our interests."
Sources indicated that Turner might have put the games on its TruTV channel, which carried college basketball during the March Madness ofthe NCAA Basketball Tournament.
The NHL said it raked in record revenue this season and was projecting total revenue of $2.9 billion by the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The league credited sponsorship and merchandise sales, corporate investment in its big events and digital growth for its gains.
The league said all of its North American TV partners had viewership increases. Regular season ratings on Versus were up 17% and the Winter Classic on NBC was the most watched regular season game in 36 years.
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