March 11, 2021
Disney-owned ESPN and the National Hockey League March 10 announced an expansive seven-year deal, returning the professional sport to ESPN (and other Disney platforms) for the first time since 2004. Included will be 25 regular-season (2021-22) games on ESPN or ABC TV, early-round playoff series and one conference final each year, four Stanley Cup Final series on ABC and more than 1,000 games per season streaming on ESPN+.
ESPN+, with 12 million subscribers, and Hulu (39.4 million) will be home to 75 ESPN-produced exclusive telecasts per season. NHL.tv, the league’s branded SVOD service, will join the ESPN+ platform.
The deal also includes opening-night games, the NHL All-Star Game and Skills Challenge and other special events. The NHL’s out-of-market streaming package (NHL.TV) is also moving to ESPN+ as part of its subscription offerings. International rights in Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Europe are also part of the deal, as are extensive highlight rights for ESPN’s digital platforms.
The NHL has aired on NBC and its cable properties for the past 16+ years.
“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 for Disney, said in a statement. “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.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the “incomparable power, reach and influence of The Walt Disney Company and ABC/ESPN” would set a new distribution standard for hockey and its most passionate and tech-savvy fans.
The first NHL game on ESPN aired on Dec. 19, 1979 — a little more than three months after the network premiered. ESPN continued to produce NHL content for the next nine years. After a break, the network became the home for the NHL from 1992 to 2004.