After almost two decades away from the Worldwide Leader in Sports™, the NHL appears poised to once again shack up with ESPN and put on some mouse ears for the time being, as Sportsnet reported only a few minutes ago:
Sources: ESPN is signing a seven-year deal with the NHL as part of the league's new U.S. media rights package.https://t.co/R7VeixXYq7— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) March 9, 2021
Starting post-2004 lockout, the NHL entered a lucrative deal with NBC that was coming to an end this year, and it seemed like NBC probably wasn’t going to be the most helpful in getting eyes on the product, especially since it looked like they were going to move national games to USA.
Of course, part of the deal appears to be non-exclusive agreement, as it appears ESPN won’t be getting the Stanley Cup Finals in all the years of the deal. NBC may still end up with games on USA if all goes well, as non-exclusivity in a streaming world seems to be the way of the future; See the NFL’s flexibility with going all the way to Nickelodeon this year (a CBS affiliate), or TBS’ long standing history with the MLB as examples of sports starting on one network and branching out.
While fans have definitely grown a bit of an adversarial relationship with ESPN in the intervening years thanks to their insistence on featuring less hockey coverage than their usual slate of NFL/NBA/MLB/two old guys yelling at each other about Giannis or Lebron content, there was a time when ESPN was practically the way outside of local stations to get national coverage of the sport, and they didn’t necessarily skimp on any of it.
This of course means that as well as broadcast ESPN, Disney owned streaming services suddenly become a much more lucrative option, at least for hockey fans, as there’s a definitive non-zero chance some games end up being streamed there.
The exact terms of this deal have yet to be revealed, but the hopes of perhaps McGuire-less, Milbury-less Bruins coverage lives, and for that I can say that I am very excited.