Can Charles Barkley Talk Hockey?
Is a shuffling of the TV deck good for hockey?
One Big Thing: Post-pandemic TV Landscape Taking Shape
Ins and Outs of the New Deal: The NHL has its new U.S. national TV deal, and it’s the biggest the league has ever seen. Moving away from long-time partners NBC, the NHL is getting back together with ESPN and welcoming first-time rights holder Turner Sports after a new deal running through the 2027-2028 season was announced last week.
The financial terms are the highest the NHL has ever seen on a U.S. deal. ESPN has reportedly committed $400 million per season, with the Turner Sports deal coming in around $225 million per season. Coupled with the massive Rogers Media deal the NHL has in Canada (approximately USD$355 million per season), and the NHL is looking at almost USD$1 billion per season on the new deal. This of course pales in comparison to the approximately $1 billion per network per season the NFL brings in, but the NHL is hoping the new deal reinvigorates its appeal among younger demographics.
Fresh Faces and Forward Thinking Networks: While NFL money may be out of reach, an NFL feel may be more realistic. Creating a more “event-like” atmosphere to hockey coverage in the U.S. is needed, a shift numerous team executives who spoke to The Athletic agreed with. Creativity, reaching a wider audience, and adding more engaging personalities are other focal points.
It’s natural for people to immediately point to TNT’s successful “NBA on TNT” panel and think of what it can put together for the NHL. Sidenote: who wouldn’t love to see Shaq and Charles Barkley analyze hockey, even just once?
Hockey has traditionally stifled player personalities — Parker Milner discussed this in his Saturday column — and often preferred stale analysts over someone looking to push the envelope. There are rumblings that this could change.
And it’s not to say possible engaging personalities don’t exist on the media side. Kevin Bieksa, Jeff O’Neill, and Jennifer Botterill are household names in Canada, and Sports Illustrated hinted at Spittin’ Chiclets co-hosts Paul Bissonette and Ryan Whiteney being intriguing fits. In terms of programming, ESPN’s Sportscenter will run hockey highlights in its A-block, and shows like First Take will now have to talk hockey. Operation ‘increased visibility’ activated. Turner Sports also runs the Bleacher Report, and its House of Highlights media brand. Just one of a few ways it can engage a younger audience, something the NHL desperately needs.
End of the Flat Cap Era? Not so fast. While the deal is definitely a boon for the NHL’s bottom line, commissioner Gary Bettman told Rogers Sportsnet in Canada that he anticipates the cap to remain flat for the immediate future, maybe even for the next two or three seasons. As part of the re-negotiated CBA, debt accrued during the pandemic needs to be repaid to the league and owners until the salary cap can increase. Deep Dive: The Athletic has a great financial explanation here.
Insider Updates & Analysis
Check this out: After the TNT deal was announced, the crew quizzed Shquille O'Neal on his hockey knowledge. It goes as you’d expect.
Oops: TNT may be excited about the new TV deal, but it got off to a rough start, confusing retired player Andrew Ference for the face of the game Connor McDavid.
Update: Joe Thornton became the 7th NHL player to record 1,100 assists.
Update: Ryan Miller, the winningest US-born goalie in NHL history, announced his retirement this week.
On the other hand: Jaromir Jagr, the 49-year-old and veteran of 33 (!) professional hockey seasons, is not retiring.
A Question for the Peanut Gallery
Is this the deal that finally brings in the younger U.S. audience the NHL has long coveted?