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Goodbye ESPN

from Media Week,
ESPN has declined to match a bid by Comcast's Outdoor Life Network for the cable TV rights to air National Hockey League games under a new contract, meaning OLN, whose offer had already received approval by the NHL board of governors, will win the agreement. ESPN announced its intention not to exercise its right to match the deal just hours before the midnight deadline. OLN bid a guaranteed $135 million for the first two years, and another $72.5 million for a third option year, according to sources. ESPN in late May had opted out of the final year of its TV rights deal ithat would have required it to pay the NHL $60 million for the right to air games the upcoming season, but retained its right to match any offer from another network.

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update 12:11am, from Darren Rovell of ESPN,

The NHL will have a new television home next fall.
ESPN, which has had a stake in NHL broadcasts since the 1992-93 season, informed the league on Wednesday that it would not match the offer put forth by Comcast.
“With the NHL deal, OLN is now further away from being that niche channel for serious sports recreation enthusiasts and moves closer to the sports fan who is enthusiastic about sitting on his couch watching the sport he loves,” said David Carter, principal of The Sports Business Group, a sports consultancy firm.
A year without hockey proved to ESPN executives that picking up the option or matching Comcast’s offer didn’t make much financial sense, even at half the price it paid when the deal started in 1999. In the NHL’s place, ESPN filled the air with original programming, like “Bowling Night” and “Stump The Schwab.” Programs like these drew ratings that were at least comparable to the number of people watching NHL games.

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update 12:16am, Another link from the AP via TSN…


update 12:51am, from the NY Times,

In a statement, Gary B. Bettman, the N.H.L. commissioner, praised ESPN for its past support. OLN and Comcast officials were unavailable for comment.
OLN will carry games on Mondays and Tuesdays and will pay $65 million this season, $70 million in 2006-7 and $72.5 million in the third season, which is at the option of OLN and its owner, Comcast. The contract could extend for three more seasons, also at OLN and Comcast’s option. With 21.4 million subscribers, Comcast is the largest cable operator in the United States and owns several cable networks.
For the league, OLN’s financial commitment is a triumph; three months ago, ESPN declined to exercise its option to pay the league $60 million to carry the upcoming season, reasoning that the lockout had greatly diminished its value.
OLN’s deal mandates that Comcast carry the NHL Network, which is now only available in Canada, on its digital sports tier. If certain subscriber levels for the network are not reached after two years, Comcast would have to pay the league $15 million, said a television executive who is familiar with the OLN deal, but would not speak for attribution because the contract has not been signed.
OLN must pay the league $15 million more if it exceeds 80 million subscribers, the executive said. It now has 64 million, well below ESPN’s 90 million.
For OLN, carrying the N.H.L. is a more than subtle shift in direction for a channel that is built on the Tour de France, plus hunting, fishing, rodeo, bullriding and adventure programming and “Survivor” reruns. In July, it de-emphasized its roots by changing its name to OLN from the Outdoor Life Network.

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update 1:09am, More information streaming in- The league finalized a two-year deal with Comcast Corp. - the owner of OLN - late Wednesday night after ESPN declined to match the agreement that will pay the NHL $65 million this season and $70 million in 2006-07.
The agreement between Comcast and the NHL was approved by the league’s board of governors last week. ESPN, which resumed regular broadcast of NHL games in 1992, had until Wednesday night to match the contract but decided to pass.
“Over the years, thousands of great NHL moments were presented to our fans through the lenses of ESPN cameras,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “ESPN was a supportive partner, and both the National Hockey League and ESPN enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. We wish ESPN continued success.”
The new deal can be extended up to six years. For the 2007-08 season, Comcast would pay the NHL $72.5 million but that number could go higher based on contingencies.
OLN, best known for providing live coverage of the Tour de France, will show between 58 and 78 regular-season games, as well as conference quarterfinals and the entire conference finals - with the exception of some weekend windows that could move games to NBC in both playoff rounds.
OLN will show Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup finals before NBC takes over for the remainder of the series.
The deal with Comcast goes beyond just television rights. Comcast will bring the NHL Network to cable systems in the United States, and provide on-demand game broadcasts and computer streaming of live games.

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

Email Paul anytime at pk@kuklaskorner.com

 

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