Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Quick Thoughts on the 2016 World Cup of Hockey on ESPN

TSN (as funny as that sounds) has reported that ESPN won the rights to the 2016 World Cup of Hockey outbidding both NBC and FOX. ESPN has not showed any competitive hockey outside of the college game since pre-2004-05 lockout, and whatever you believe about their coverage of the sport now, this news can only be good for the game.

It's becoming apparent that the way the NHL structured their TV rights deals in both the US and Canada isn't doing everything that it probably should have based on the structure. Both NBC and Rogers essentially control the NHL now in their respective countries, which means they basically control the message of the league since other sports players are restricted on the amount of highlights they can show. That's not a major problem in Canada, unlike in the US where FOX and ESPN show enough hockey highlights to acknowledge that the games are happening, but not much else until they are absolutely forced to... which comes in April, May and June. For Rogers, their ratings aren't quite what they expected, and they expected plenty.

The Rogers contingent gets more hockey to show with the World Cup of Hockey in Canada, but ESPN picking the tournament up in the States is a good sign for the NHL going forward. It shows that there is a demand for hockey beyond the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Olympic hockey tournament, both of which NBC has on lockdown until 2021, with the Olympics stretching all the way out to 2032. The NHL rights aren't too far away from being up for bid again, and considering how the price of live sports continues to skyrocket, the NHL is in for another big haul now that 3 networks have showed considerable interest.

One wonders whether some NHL highlight rights come along with this package for ESPN, which probably isn't the case, but they now have a major hockey event in their stable during the teeth of the MLB playoff chase and the burgeoning college football season. More rights can't hurt a company craving them, but like with soccer ESPN needs to tread carefully with how they broadcast this tournament. It's going to be a big deal for hockey fans whether they like the funky format or not, so the tournament needs to be broadcasted with care.

ESPN getting back in the hockey game is good for all, and they have a major tournament now to prove that their interest in hockey isn't cursory.

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