The National Hockey League and ESPN are together again: The two sides announced a seven-year agreement Wednesday beginning next season that includes four Stanley Cup Finals, the NHL All-Star game and comprehensive streaming rights.
ESPN has a long history with the league, stretching back to the network’s launch, but hasn’t aired games since 2004.
“This partnership of the world’s top hockey league and the platforms of The Walt Disney Company is a big win for our fans and our game,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “It sets a new standard in delivering our game to the most passionate and tech-savvy fans in sports in the ways they now demand and on the platforms they use.”
ESPN started airing NHL games when it went on the air in 1979 by making deals with individual teams. It had the national NHL rights from 1985-88 and 1992-2004.
Under the new agreement, the Stanley Cup Final will air on ABC in four of the seven years, beginning next season. It also includes 25 regular-season games with the likely breakdown being 15 on ESPN and 10 on ABC. The ABC games would likely air on Saturdays beginning around the All-Star game with the ESPN top game being on Thursday.
ESPN and ABC will also have first choice of which conference final series to air as well as half of the first- and second-round games.
Even more significant for ESPN and Disney is that the NHL.TV package — which has more than 1,000 out-of-market games — will move to the ESPN+ streaming service and will be a part of the base package.
ESPN will also produce 75 national games per season that will streamed exclusively on both ESPN+ and Hulu.
“This agreement serves as a blueprint for sports deals in the future. 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,” ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro said.
NBC is in the final season of a 10-year contract worth $2 billion that gives it national NHL rights, but the league will air on multiple networks in its next agreement.
NBC has aired games since 2005 and is still among the bidders for the other part of the deal, which includes three Stanley Cup Finals.
Fox Sports and CBS are also likely to put in bids. Fox had NHL rights from 1995-99. Where all three networks stand could become clearer after the NFL’s television rights are finalized.