Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 07/26/05 at 12:02 AM ET
The NHL finally has settled its labor troubles, but its negotiating days are far from over. Still to be determined is where its U.S. national cable/satellite television package will end up this season. NBC has gained the over-the-air package of telecasts that ABC used to have, but the league's contract with ESPN has expired and no cable deal is in place. Now the reality is that the NHL is even more lightly regarded as a TV entity now than it was when games were being played two seasons ago. ESPN's replacement programming last spring - including trivia shows, celebrity bowling and NFL players competing in skills contests - drew a better rating than the playoffs did the previous year. Then in May, ESPN opted not to renew its contract with the NHL, which would have cost the network $60 million. But ESPN isn't ready to give up on the NHL, either. "We would like to be in business with the NHL," ESPN executive vice president for programming and production Mark Shapiro said in a telephone interview. "But it's got to be on more appropriate economic terms." Does that mean a straight revenue-sharing deal, as NBC has made with the NHL, instead of paying at least some rights fee? "Not necessarily - but not $60 million, either," Shapiro said. There have been rumblings that the cable package could end up on USA (an NBC sister network), TNT or Spike TV. But Marc Ganis, president of the sports business consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd., said the NHL simply needs to take the best offer it can wrangle out of ESPN. "They have to go to ESPN," Ganis told the Los Angeles Times. "There really is not much of a choice here, not necessarily because of the money they'll make off the game broadcasts, but rather the promotional exposure that ESPN will offer across a broad spectrum of sports fans.''
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