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OutKick has been preparing readers for months that the NHL is likely going to strike a deal with ESPN. According to SportsNet, the two sides have agreed to a seven-year deal.
Most importantly, it says ESPN will receive rights to four Stanley Cup Finals between 2022 and 2028.
(UPDATE: SportsNet’s original report said four of the Stanley Cup Finals would air on ESPN, an update now says it will air on ESPN/ABC, keeping the series on broadcast TV.)
Disney will also get streaming rights for the NHL, which was key since the company invests so heavily in the ESPN, Disney+, Hulu bundle.
SportsNet says financial terms of the deal aren’t available, nor is the other media company that will split the package with ESPN.
NBC’s current deal with the NHL, which gives the network exclusive U.S. media rights, expires after this season.
In October, I responded to the news from CNBC that Disney could look to sell ESPN. I explained that while ESPN daily programming is in trouble, its live sporting division is improving:
Jim Cramer overlooked how much ESPN fits the new direction Disney is taking. Media sources agree that ESPN’s focus moving forward is ESPN+. With its three OTT services, ESPN+, Disney+ and Hulu, Disney is positioned for a long, industry-changing run.
Over the next three years, expect to see more and more content on ESPN+, including live games, bumper programming, niche content, and highlights of ESPN.com.
I’ve been critical of ESPN and its future. But I’m referring to its daily TV and radio programming. Both of which are in trouble.
ESPN has done a poor job of building out its bench, relies too much on Stephen A. Smith, and has no one under 40 who moves ratings. There will not be another PTI or Stephen A. on TV, and a new Mike & Mike is not coming back to radio. For individual talents at ESPN, the network peaked years ago.
As a company, the ESPN brand is fine. Live sports project to be an even bigger part of ESPN’s library. In a few years, ESPN/ABC could add the SEC game of the week, a Super Bowl, and the NHL.
As for ESPN+, the UFC and Disney+/Hulu bundle have elevated the service to 8.5 million paid subscribers as of June 27.
All in all, ESPN’s future is positive for sports leagues, studio hosts, in-game reporters, and play-by-play commentators. It’s negative for day-to-day personalities.
From a talent standpoint, ESPN has several names on its roster that it can quickly insert into its NHL coverage, including John Buccigross, Steve Levy, Linda Cohn, and Barry Melrose.