Welcome Back, NHL

Posted: Apr 26, 2011 11:25 AM

As much as it pains me to write about this… I’m going to talk about hockey.

You see, for the last 23 years I’ve been a diehard New York Rangers hockey fan.

And last week, after being up 3-0 against the Washington Capitals, in game 4 of the Stanley Cup Quarter finals, they lost in double overtime.

Game 5 came and went and now the Rangers are out of the playoffs.

I’m still in disbelief this morning of this epic meltdown, but life goes on – it’s only a sport after all.

But this sport has been fighting to regain popularity and profitability ever since the National Hockey League lockout in 2004-2005. Last week the sport got perhaps its biggest victory after they agreed to 10-year TV contract with NBC. It’s the TV rights they’ve been deprived of since the lockout, with only limited coverage provided by NBC and cable network Versus.

But each year NBC has been expanding coverage and that’s simply because people are tuning in, in larger numbers, giving them the advertising revenues needed to make any deal. “This is the most significant U.S media rights partnership in the league’s history,” said NHL commissioner Gerry Bettman. “NBC Universal-Comcast is one of the most important, connected and wired media companies in the U.S., and as the potential of the NBC Sports Group is realized, the importance of our relationship will be more apparent to hockey fans and our business partners… NBC Sports and Comcast have been fantastic partners. They have provided incredible coverage of our sport and have team with us to deliver the best TV viewership figures in three decades.”

Needless to say that the NHL’s success and excitement has been noticed, as the NHL did shop around with a few different suitors for their TV rights, such as ESPN, a pre-lockout partner.

Under the reported 10 year, $2 billion deal, NBC will remain the exclusive network partner for the NHL, beating out Fox and ESPN. Versus will retain the cable rights.

What this means for U.S hockey fans is that for the first time, every single NHL playoff game will air on one of the NBC Sports network channels.

This begins in the Conference Semi-final round and will run until a team is crowned champion (NY Rangers perhaps), with Versus showing games 3 and 4 of the finals. On top of that, NBC will broadcast 100 regular season games along with the Winter Classic (outdoor game) and a national game of the week. Dick Ebersol, the chairman of the NBC Sports Group said, “This is a perfect marriage with us. Nothing serves the NBC Sports Group better than the NHL.”

Versus on the other hand will have the rights to a game of the week, a Canadian outdoor game, and the All-Star game. They will also up their broadcasts from 50 to 90 games.

Let me tell you this is significant because living in Florida and using Comcast as my provider, I have to subscribe to their ‘Center Ice’ package, which is sold individually. So I can’t just pop over to a friend’s house and watch a game unless they also have the package. This arrangement obviously limits the number of American viewers watching games. But now, with upwards to 200 nationally televised games between Versus and NBC, I’m sure the already growing fan base will tune in to more games.

This has been brought about because NHL TV rating have skyrocketed 84% over the last 4 seasons, with this year’s Winter Classic the most watched regular season game in the last 36 years!

And this is a growing trend that will only magnify with each game.

Versus knows this well. Their viewership has jumped 17% this season and they’ve expanded their outreach from 64 million homes to almost 80 million homes since the lockout.

The NHL is on pace for most profitable year since the lockout, surpassing previous record of $2.9 billion overall. And with this significant contract with NBC and growing coverage from Versus, hockey might just have the tools to become even more profitable.

I know that if you’ve never tuned into a hockey game, watch one, playoff hockey is the most exciting, action-packed sporting event on TV… and now it’s on TV, so perhaps you will tune in.