Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 07/19/05 at 08:57 AM ET
When Comcast Corp. named former Fox cable guru Jeff Shell as president of programming in February, the idea was to expand the company's national portfolio in a big way. He might just do that with the NHL. According to sources inside and outside the company, Comcast is preparing an offer to televise NHL games for the 2005-06 season. Comcast has not made a formal proposal to the league, but the company has informed officials that it intends to become a major player in the bidding rights. "Talks haven't reached a price figure, but there is definite interest there on Comcast's part," one source said. In April, ESPN chose not to exercise its $70 million option to televise the NHL for 2005-06 and 2006-07. Some confusion remains about whether ESPN still retains those rights. The NHL has a two-year agreement with NBC to televise games when play resumes this fall. In Canada, the league has deals with the CBC and the Sports Network. The league's previous five-year TV deal with ABC and ESPN was worth $600 million. Because of the lockout and canceled season, media observers don't foresee a deal approaching that figure in the league's immediate future. Comcast spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick declined to comment on the company's interest in the NHL yesterday, and Shell could not be reached. "The Comcast networks are always interested in compelling new content, including sports," Fitzpatrick said. "But our policy is not to comment on programming rumors or speculation." Locally, Comcast, which owns the Flyers and 76ers, televises both teams, as well as the Phillies, on its cable channel. To facilitate national telecasts in areas where Comcast does not have a presence, it would have two choices: Create a new national network or use one of its other networks - E! or Style or Outdoor Life, among others - to telecast games. Because the discussions are in the preliminary stages, the source said, Comcast has not decided which avenue it would pursue. "It's not something we can talk about right now, at this stage," said Jack Williams, president of Comcast's regional sports television.
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