With every marquee sport plus original programming on its air, ESPN is
tidying up its schedule.
The sports net is reducing its National Hockey League telecasts to 71 regular
season games, down from 102 last year.
Pro hockey will still have an exclusive night, Thursday, and ESPN is adding
Sunday afternoon games after the All Star break.
The NHL's old night, Wednesdays, will soon belong to the National Basketball
Association, ESPN's latest sports acquisition.
But ESPN said its NHL changes had nothing to do with ESPN's NBA deal.
ESPN's head of programming Mark Shapiro said network and league officials
decided midseason last year to cut back on coverage.
"At some point, ESPN is guilty of putting too many games of one sport," he
said. "We didn't want to get to the point we're diluting the product by
NHL Executive Vice President and COO Jon Litner echoed those sentiments.
"What doesn't appear on ESPN will appeal regionally or locally. There's no
dilution in coverage," he said. Shapiro noted that ESPN reduced its NHL coverage
last year, too.
An upside for the NHL is ESPN will split its Thursday night coverage
nationally based on regional matchups. Those games will go up against TNT's
exclusive Thursday night NBA coverage, NBA on TNT.
"We're used to having the NHL up against five or six NBA games," Shapiro
said. "There will be two NBA games and one marquee NHL game."
ESPN and ESPN2 will not reduce postseason coverage.