The NHL will be back on ESPN next season for the first time in 17 years. The Disney-owned sports network has reached a seven-year media rights agreement with the pro hockey league that will begin next season.
ESPN used to be the league’s main TV partner from 1992 until 2004, when it moved off the popular sports network in favor of a deal with NBC Sports. The new agreement includes games for the ESPN+ streaming service as well.
The agreement includes four Stanley Cup Finals over the life of the deal for ESPN’s sister broadcast network ABC, which runs from 2022 through 2028. Disney will have the option to simulcast the championship round on ESPN+. The NHL’s out-of-market streaming package, which allows fans to watch every game of the season (blacked out in home markets), will move over to ESPN+ as well.
The deal calls for 25 games each year to broadcast exclusively on ESPN or ABC, with an additional 75 games that will stream exclusively on ESPN+ and Hulu. On Tuesday, ESPN+ became available as an add-on for Hulu subscribers.
ESPN will get access to half of the Stanley Cup playoff games in addition to opening night coverage and All-Star festivities.
“This partnership of the world’s top hockey league and the platforms of The Walt Disney Company is a big win for our fans and our game,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Not only will this groundbreaking, seven-year deal enable the NHL to benefit from the incomparable power, reach and influence of The Walt Disney Company and ABC/ESPN, it sets a new standard in delivering our game to the most passionate and tech-savvy fans in sports in the ways they now demand and on the platforms they use.”
ESPN is only paying for a portion of the NHL’s media rights, which leaves the door open for NBC Sports remaining a TV partner. Like Disney, NBCUniversal has a streaming service of its own, Peacock, and sports programming is a major building block. “We continue to discuss a potential future with the league as we focus on the season at hand,” an NBC Sports spokesperson said.
NBC currently pays $200 million annually for its exclusive rights to the NHL. While terms of the new deal were not disclosed, it is likely to be a price increase.
“This agreement clearly underscores The Walt Disney Company’s leadership in the sports media landscape and serves as a blueprint for sports deals in the future,” Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN and sports content, said. “We know the power of the NHL and are thrilled to welcome it back as a significant new pillar across our platforms, and we look forward to connecting more deeply and directly with some of the sports world’s most passionate fans.”