NHL, Turner Sports reach deal for games on TNT, TBS

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“They 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,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “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 Sports, a division of WarnerMedia, joins The Walt Disney Co. and ESPN as the NHL’s national media rights partners in the United States for the next seven seasons. The NHL, The Walt Disney Co. and ESPN announced a multiplatform media rights deal March 10.

Financial terms of each agreement were not disclosed.

“It’s good,” Commissioner Bettman said. “We think the arrangements we have now are much more reflective of the value that we bring as compelling content.” 

Commissioner Bettman said the NHL salary cap, which is tied to revenues and expected to stay at $81.5 million for the foreseeable future, should be able to increase sooner than expected because of the financial ramifications of the two media rights agreements.

“We have a fairly large escrow to be made up, and until we do the cap is basically flat,” Commissioner Bettman said. “The increase in value obviously is going to shorten the time frame that perhaps many had projected when we did the Return to Play for last season and extended the [NHL/NHLPA] Collective Bargaining Agreement. 

“We have six years of labor peace that we’re in the midst of, and the point to which the cap will then kick into the old formula I think as a result of our partnerships moving forward will be sooner than it otherwise would have been.”

The NHL joins the NBA, MLB and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament as partners with Turner Sports.

As part of the agreement, Turner Sports networks will televise the NHL Winter Classic, the annual New Year’s Day outdoor game, in all seven seasons of the deal. 

It will televise all games in the Stanley Cup Final in 2023, 2025 and 2027, one conference final series each season, and half of the first two rounds of the playoffs, plus 72 regular-season games per season.

Scheduling and programming will be determined in the coming weeks, WarnerMedia News & Sports chairman Jeff Zucker said. 

The Stanley Cup Final will be televised on ABC in 2022, 2024, 2026 and 2028 as part of the deal with The Walt Disney Co. and ESPN. 

It has the rights to one conference final round per season, half of the first two rounds of the playoffs, 25 regular-season games on ABC or ESPN, and 75 national games that will stream on ESPN+ and Hulu.

In addition, they will stream more than 1,000 out-of-market games each regular season on ESPN+, which will replace NHL.TV.

“Creating a wider distribution base is only going to continue to grow the sport and help it skew younger,” Commissioner Bettman said. “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. That’s why we’re so excited.”

Video: Bettman, Zucker discuss NHL, TNT partnership

Zucker said there will be no conflicts with Turner Sports coverage of the NBA, which also has a media rights partnership with The Walt Disney Co. and ESPN.

“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,” Zucker said. “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. We’re incredibly excited about this relationship with the NHL.” 

Bleacher Report, which is owned by Turner, will have expansive digital rights to use NHL highlights as part of the agreement.

HBO Max, another subsidiary of Turner Sports, will gain digital streaming and simulcast rights that won’t be available to consumers until later in the agreement, Zucker said.

“These are places we are going to be moving to and I think that’s going to be great for our fans,” Commissioner Bettman said. “If you’re a hockey fan you’ve got more national games than ever before, you’ve got more extensive coverage than ever before. You’re going to be able to get as much hockey as you want.”

Zucker said Turner’s plan is to develop a studio show similar to its 11-time Sports Emmy Award-winning show “Inside the NBA,” which features host Ernie Johnson and analysts Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith.

“There is a style to Turner Sports and there’s an approach, and we want to bring that same approach to the NHL,” Zucker said.

NBC has been the NHL’s national media rights partner since 2005-06. Its 10-year agreement expires after the Stanley Cup Final this season.

“NBC has reconfirmed to me that we should expect no difference in the treatment that we are going to get compared to what we’ve gotten over the length of our relationship,” Commissioner Bettman said.

Commissioner Bettman said the NHL will turn its attention to the future of the NHL Network.

“We envision in some form continuing the NHL Network,” Commissioner Bettman said. “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.”

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