The NHL is reportedly returning to ESPN.
Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported on Tuesday that, according to multiple sources, the league and the U.S.-based TV station have agreed to a seven-year deal beginning in 2021-22. Johnston noted that ESPN broadcasts four Stanley Cup Finals between 2022 and 2028, but there was no information regarding with whom they would split the rights. Disney, who owns 80 percent of ESPN, would get streaming rights under the deal.
While the financial terms are unknown at this time, NBC — currently rights-holder — pays $200 million a year to broadcast NHL games. The contract expires after this season.
ESPN was the home of the NHL from 1992 to 2004, with some of the biggest broadcast names calling games. That includes current “Monday Night Football” play-by-play announcer Steve Levy, Gary Thorne, Jack Edwards and the late Dave Strader. Analysts included Darren Pang, Bill Clement, Brian Engblom and current NBC analyst Eddie Olcyzk.
Due to the 2004-05 NHL lockout that resulted in the entire season being lost, ESPN did not pick up its option for 2005-06 for $60 million.
“Tonight, we informed the NHL that we did not accept their final contract offer,” ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer said in a 2005 statement. “We worked very hard to build and sustain our relationship with the league and would have liked to continue. However, given the prolonged work stoppage and the league’s TV ratings history, no financial model even remotely supports the contract terms offered.”
The league moved over to Comcast’s Outdoor Life Network — which then became Versus and then NBC Sports Network — after they agreed to a three-year deal worth more than $200 million.
Today, ESPN has expanded coverage of the league on ESPN+ with the airing of games and NHL-related shows. There has been no word if “NHL 2Night” — the popular daily NHL-oriented show that was hosted by John Buccigross and included analysts Barry Melrose, Ray Ferraro and E.J. Hradek — would return. Fans are regardless salivating at the idea.
Reaction on Twitter was also positive regarding the news of ESPN and the NHL reuniting:
This is really great for the NHL. ESPN is a big network in the U.S. and anytime you get involved with Disney is a win win situation https://t.co/HIGqxYjyOt
— Off the Rails Sports Podcast (@OTRsports99) March 9, 2021