Comcast outskates ESPN, other suitors for rights to hockey; Versus to be rebranded “within 90 days”
Comcast and the National Hockey League have announced a new agreement that will give NBC and Versus rights to televise hockey games for the next 10 years at least.
Also read: NHL, NBC to Announce New Broadcasting Deal
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol made the announcement during a conference call on Tuesday.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but according to the Sports Business Journal, Comcast paid north of $200 million a year, far more than the average $120 million that ESPN had paid for the rights from 1999 to 2004.
NBCU outbid ESPN, TBS and others for the rights to broadcast games on NBC and Versus. It is NBCU's first sports rights deal since Comcast took over the company.
Bettman called the new agreement "the most significant media deal that this league has ever had the pleasure to participate in."
The Versus sports network currently pays $77.5 million a year for the NHL rights. NBCUniversal has had a revenue-sharing deal with the league that does not entail paying a rights fee. NBC announced Tuesday that that will change with the new deal, and NBC will pay a "substantial" amount of the rights fee.
Ebersol also announced that, as a result of the deal, there will be a rebranding of Versus. "We are no more than 90 days away from renaming Versus," Ebersol noted.
Ebersol noted that the NHL's lengthy post-season will be crucial in helping NBC and Versus recoup their investment. He added that all games in the regular season will be presented exclusively which, combined with the popularity of the game among the male demographic, is essential to making the deal financially viable.
Bettman dismissed the notion that a sport must be carried on ESPN to achieve a certain level of legitimacy. "I think our fans, over the past six years, have known how to find NBC, and Versus' coverage has been extraordinary," Bettman said, adding that fan feedback has reinforced that assessment.
Bettman noted that Versus will air games three and four of the Stanley Cup finals, while NBC will air the others. Also, for the first time, the Conference Semifinals will be broadcast exclusively.
According to a release issued by NBC Sports on Thursday, NHL television ratings in the U.S. have risen by 84 percent over the past four years, with overall revenue for the 2010-2011 season expected to surpass $2.9 billion.