NBC, Versus Freeze Out ESPN's NHL Offer

Ebersol wins battle with $2 billion, 10-year bid

In their first duel since Comcast and NBCUniversal joined forces, NBC has iced ESPN out of the NHL rights package, signing a deal that sources say will span a decade.

While terms of the new 10-year pact weren’t immediately available, the bidding is believed to have reached nearly three times the value of the current Versus contract ($75 million per year). Under the terms of NBC’s legacy pact with the league, the broadcaster doesn’t part with a penny; instead, the NHL and NBC split advertising revenue.

Last fall, team owners had been looking for full broadcast compensation and a rate hike of at least 50 percent over the Versus rights fee. The new package, which is expected to tally up to approximately $200 million per year for a joint custody arrangement between NBC and cable sibling Versus, demonstrates the monolithic power of the sports marketplace.

Long-term deals are now the norm. Last year, CBS and Turner Sports signed a landmark 14-year, $10.8 billion deal to broadcast the men’s NCAA basketball tournament. A week ago, Fox Sports and the Big 12 conference teamed up on a 13-year, $1.03 billion pact for football and a grab bag of Olympic sporting events—a tremendous commitment for a second-tier partnership.

The deal comes on the heels of a record year for Versus, which averaged 353,000 viewers for regular season NHL coverage this season, up 19 percent from last year.

While NBC-Versus were considered the favorites heading into the negotiations, Fox Sports, Turner Sports, and ESPN also put up a concerted effort to land the pro hockey package. Fox was the first to drop out, while Turner, which may have been looking for an insurance policy against a possible NBA lockout, walked away about a week ago.

ESPN stayed in the fray until the very end as it looked to bring the NHL back into the fold after an eight-year absence. Ultimately, despite what was essentially a matching bid from Bristol, the league opted to stay with the partners that have worked to rebuild the NHL brand after the disastrous 2004-05 shutdown.

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