NHL, WarnerMedia Strike 7-Year Deal That Puts Live Games on HBO Max

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Brian Steinberg
·3 min read
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Hockey is going somewhere it has never been before.

WarnerMedia gained rights to show live NHL games on its two big cable networks, TBS and TNT, as well as its new streaming hub, HBO Max, in a seven-year pact valued at least at $200 million that expands the company’s sports-rights portfolio for the first time in years. Disney’s ESPN already secured a larger NHL package. The league is cutting ties with NBCUniversal, which has had sole dominion over its U.S. broadcast rights for 16 years.

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“This underscores our commitment at Turner Sports to premium sports content and clearly expands our portfolio,” said Jeff Zucker, chairman of WarnerMedia’s news and sports operations, during a conference with reporters. Turner is likely to focus first on NHL programming for TNT and TBS, he said — the company did not announce what day of the week would be devoted to hockey, given TNT’s schedule already encompasses MLB and NBA games as well as AEW wrestling — and over time will start to focus more closely on opportunities for programming on HBO Max. “As the consumer continues to skate to where the puck is” Zucker said, streaming will play a larger role

The agreement commences with the 2021-2022 season.

Under terms of the pact, WarnerMedia’s TBS and TNT will get to broadcast the Stanley Cup Final and parts of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time — though ESPN will get the Final four times in the next three years and Turner will have it on three occasions TNT will have exclusive rights to the league’s annual Winter Classic. Overall, Turner Sports will get rights to up to 72 regular-season games each season, and will be able to show those games on HBO Max and via a variety of mobile screens. Turner can also show clips and highlights via its Bleacher Report and House of Highlights venues.

Turner Sports expects to unveil game and studio coverage plans in months to come.

The league is essentially tripling the fees it stands to take in with the two new pacts. NBCUniversal had been paying an estimated $200 million a year for the full NHL schedule. Now ESPN is seen paying around $400 million for its share of the rights. With Turner’s $200 million per year estimate, that would give the league $600 million a year in fees, or $4.2 billion over the course of the next seven years.

The NHL has no concern about having a Stanley Cup Final on cable only, said Gary Bettman, the NHL’s commissioner. “I am more than comfortable” with TNT, which reaches around 90 million homes, Bettman said. He was also pleased with the opportunity to reach younger fans via digital and mobile venues, such as Turner’s Bleacher Report and House of Highlights.

The new deal, said by executives to have been completed in the past two weeks, gives Turner Sports exposure to every major sports league except the NFL, Turner’s pact with the NBA runs through 2025 and it recent extended its rights agreement with Major League Baseball through 2028. Its joint deal with CBS to show the NCAA men’s basketball tournament runs through 2032.

Zucker indicated the company was still open to considering other sports deals. “We are never not going to look at something that is right and relevant,” he said. “I feel good about where we are but we will never rest on our laurels.”

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