Monday, February 28, 2011

Fox and Turner Considering NHL TV Deal?

According to the Sport Business Journal, "Fox and Turner are taking an early look at the NHL’s cable TV package, raising the likelihood that the league will have a competitive bidding process — with as many as four networks — as it negotiates new TV deals this year."

Versus’ exclusive negotiating window closed in January. Thereafter, the NHL sent out feelers to other networks to gauge interest in the NHL’s TV rights. The league reached out to ESPN, which held the NHL’s TV rights from 1992 to 2004, and is still engaged in talks with NBC/Versus (now jointly owned).

Fox and the NHL are at the exploratory stage only (i.e., kicking television tires). Part of NHL's strategy is to try and engage the networks in an auction.

Fox has been looking to add sports to its FX cable channel, and many of its regional sports networks have deals with NHL teams. Turner could be interested in bringing more sports to its TruTV cable channel. In March, TruTV will begin telecasting some NCAA Tournament games.

The biggest issue with Versus is that it's television by appointment, and overall, it's visibility is not where the NHL wants it. Versus is still is not available in many bars and restaurants. It also has the lowest distribution of the potential networks. ESPN is in 99 million homes, FX is in 96 million homes, TruTV is in 92 million homes and Versus is in 76 million homes.

Through February 20, Versus’ NHL games have averaged 319,000 viewers, compared to last year’s 283,000.

Even if the NHL signs with NBC/Versus (which is highly likely), there is nothing stopping the NHL from signing deals with OTHER networks like ESPN and FOX. Look at the NFL - they are on every major network (except for the Slice channel) - ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC.

Whatever TV deal is struck, projections have each NHL team getting about $4 million in TV revenue a year. That's almost enough to sign Dustin Penner. How does that compare to the NFL? It doesn't. Each NFL team gets a yearly payout of between $150 to $160 million. It's a work in progress for the NHL but things are trending in the right direction.

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