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ESPN and NHL confirm multi-platform ‘US$400m’ a year rights deal

ABC to air four of next seven Stanley Cup finals as ESPN+ gets exclusive games and out-of-market package.

11 March 2021 Tom Bassam

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  • 25 regular season games to air on ESPN and ABC linear channels
  • Disney’s linear networks to broadcast half of Stanley Cup playoff matches
  • 75 exclusive regular season games stream on ESPN+ and Hulu
  • ESPN+ to also be made available within Hulu SVOD service

ESPN and the National Hockey League (NHL) have confirmed a seven-year US broadcast deal which leverages Disney’s portfolio of linear and digital platforms.

The new deal, worth more than US$400 million per year according to the Athletic, kicks in for the 2021/22 season and expires at the end of the 2027/28 campaign.

Having secured the ‘A package’, the ABC commercial network will air the Stanley Cup Final in four of the seven years of the contract, with the ability for the media company to megacast on ESPN+ and additional ESPN networks. ESPN and ABC will also exclusively broadcast 25 national games per season. Half of the Stanley Cup playoff games will air on ABC and ESPN each season, while the deal also includes annual coverage of the NHL’s opening night games, the All-Star Game and skills challenge, plus other league special events each season.

The digital element to the deal is exhaustive, with ESPN producing an additional 75 exclusive regular season games to stream nationally on both ESPN+ and Hulu. The deal also sees NHL’s out-of-market streaming package, which comprises more than 1,000 games, taken off NHL.tv and made available to stream to an ESPN+ subscriber base that had topped 12.1 million by the end of 2020.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman remained coy on the identity of the bidders for the league’s ‘B package’, but did hint that incumbent broadcaster NBC had been a “very good partner” and that an announcement can be expected on that deal in the coming weeks.

The inclusion of Hulu is a first for the platform, bringing exclusive, live sports content to its more than 39.4 million subscription video on-demand (SVOD) customers at no added cost as part of their subscription.

The agreement comes as Disney launches ESPN+ on Hulu, providing subscribers to the latter platform with access to the sports service’s content directly in the Hulu environment.

Extensive highlight rights, designed to bolster ESPN’s year-round programming and digital coverage, are also included. International media rights covered in the deal include in Latin America, the Caribbean, as well as Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Romania, San Marino, Spain, Turkey, and Vatican City.

“The capabilities that ESPN demonstrates in the way that they cover and promote sports will help to continue to grow [ice-hockey] and that was an attractive element of doing the package,” said Bettman.

“[Disney’s] reach, particularly with young people, will continue our growth.”

ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro added: “The idea is to make the league more accessible to core, existing fans and at the same time to leverage our platforms – including studio – to grow the game.”

ESPN and the NHL have confirmed a seven-year US broadcast deal

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