Turner to provide multi-platform coverage in $1.6bn NHL deal
North American ice hockey’s NHL has finalised its new seven-year media rights deal with Turner Sports, with live coverage to feature on the US television network’s new HBO Max streaming platform in addition to its traditional linear channels.
As anticipated, the broadcaster, owned by media giant WarnerMedia, has landed rights to the league in a long-term agreement starting with the 2021-22 season.
Turner will pay $225 million per year for the co-exclusive rights, replacing the the NHL's long-standing partner NBC.
Coverage of the NHL regular-season, Stanley Cup playoffs and Stanley Cup Final will be televised on the TNT and TBS networks through to 2027-28.
As part of the agreement, TNT will televise the NHL Winter Classic, the annual New Year's Day outdoor game, in all seven seasons of the deal.
TNT will show all games in the season-ending Stanley Cup Final in 2023, 2025 and 2027, one conference final series each season, half of the first two rounds of the playoffs, and 72 regular season games per year.
HBO Max will gain digital streaming and simulcast rights, although this will not be available to subscribers until later in the agreement.
Bleacher Report, the sports news portal owned by Turner, will have extensive digital rights to use NHL highlights as part of the deal.
Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner, said: "Turner put a fun and innovative factor into all of what they do and we're excited to have that same treatment for our sport and for our fans. We love the reach of their linear networks, both TNT and TBS, and as we look to the future, we're excited about the digital properties, in particular HBO Max and Bleacher Report. For us, this is a perfect fit."
Turner will share rights with ESPN after the dedicated sports broadcaster landed the first package of rights last month in a deal valued at about $400 million per season.
The new agreements represent a doubling of rights fees for the NHL as NBC’s present exclusive 10-year deal with the league is worth around $200 million annually.
Bettman said the new deals “are much more reflective of the value that we bring as compelling content".
After the ESPN deal was inked, the NHL was still widely expected to agree a renewal with NBC, but the network opted to pull out of negotiations and end its 16-year association with the league. NBC has broadcast the NHL since the 2005-06 season but will bow out after this season’s Stanley Cup Final.
ESPN has the rights to one conference final round per season, half of the first two rounds of the playoffs, and 25 exclusive national regular season games per season on sister network ABC, while Disney streaming platforms ESPN+ and Hulu will offer 75 exclusive national regular-season games each year.
The Stanley Cup Final will be shown exclusively live on ABC in 2022, 2024, 2026 and 2028.
In addition, the NHL’s out-of-market streaming package, formerly available via NHL.TV, offering more than 1,000 games per season, will be made available only as part of an ESPN+ subscription.
ESPN’s deal also includes full highlights rights for its broadcast and digital platforms and international media rights, including in Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Europe.
Bettman said: "Creating a wider distribution base is only going to continue to grow the sport and help it skew younger. On all of the basic platforms and all of the basic principles that I was focused on moving forward for our long-term media strategy, I think we've hit all the bases and we've got great partnerships."
ESPN and Turner also share rights to basketball’s NBA in a combined deal worth about $2.7 billion that runs to the end of the 2024-25 season.
Jeff Zucker, WarnerMedia News and Sports chairman, said: "We have a terrific relationship with ESPN and we work really well with them already on the NBA and I have every reason to believe that continues here, so that is good for everybody. We already work out scheduling with them on the NBA in terms of playoffs and games there. I think that institutional knowledge between the two companies is a benefit here.
“On a separate note, our ability to have both TNT and TBS available as fully distributed cable networks in the heavy months of April, May and June, I think really gives us an advantage and will make a lot of this easier."
Zucker added that Turner's plan is to develop a studio show for the NHL.
As well as the NBA, Turner holds rights to PGA Tour golf and the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament.
For Bettman, attention will now turn to securing the future of the league’s in-house pay-TV channel, NHL Network.
He said: "We envision in some form continuing the NHL Network. We think it's important for hockey fans, but the specifics of that isn't anything that we've addressed yet. How we continue to distribute it, how we produce it is something that we are now going to focus on."
Bettman also added that the NHL salary cap, which is tied to revenues and amounts to $81.5 million, could increase sooner than expected because of the lucrative new media rights deals.