By Barry Janoff
March 4, 2015: ESPN has not shown NHL games since 2004, but will hit the ice next year with the World Cup of Hockey after signing a deal with the NHL and the NHL Players' Assn. to become the exclusive U.S. broadcast network of the event.
In addition, ESPN Audio has the rights to exclusively broadcast every game in the U.S. and ESPN International has exclusive rights to the more than 20 countries served by its Pacific Rim and Latin North networks.
In Canada, Sportsnet has been awarded the exclusive English-language media rights and TVA Sports the exclusive French-language media rights. These deals cover all tournament games and include TV, online and mobile rights.
The World Cup of Hockey is scheduled to take place in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, Sept. 17-Oct. 1, 2016.
The tournament will feature teams from the United States, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic and Russia, plus Team Europe and Team North American Young Stars.
Financial terms of the deal were not released.
When the 2016 World Cup of Hockey was unveiled in January, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called it "a two-week, best-on-best international tournament that promises to be one of the best competitions in hockey history."
ESPN aired the most recent World Cup of Hockey in 2004 and had a deal to broadcast NHL games from 1992 – 2004. The NHL currently has a deal with NBC as the league's exclusive U.S. broadcast partner under a ten-year pact signed in 2001 that runs through the 2020-21 season.
During a media conference call on Wednesday (March 4) to unveil the alliance, Bettman said that NBC "was involved in the process (but had) scheduling issues." He called the negotiation "competitive."
Although marketing details were not addressed, the NHL evasions the World Cup of Hockey as being a domestic, North American and domestic stage for its players and participating sponsors.
"We've grown to a $4 billion business (so) the question now becomes, Where does the next billion come from?" John Collins, COO for the NHL, said in January. "We have a partner in the NHLPA that is just as focused as we are. We've seen it with the World Cup, which is just the next step. There are so many more opportunities."
The World Cup could replace the NHL's participation in the Winter Olympics. The League and the NHL Players' Assn. have not yet committed to playing in the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
For its part, ESPN was all-in for the 2016 competition.
“We look forward to presenting this compelling tournament, with national pride at stake, to fans both in the United States and internationally.”
“We are thrilled to resume our partnership with (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman and the National Hockey League and to work closely with Gary and Don Fehr of the National Hockey League Players’ Assn. to make the World Cup of Hockey on ESPN a reality,” John Skipper, ESPN president, said during the media conference call on Wednesday. “We look forward to presenting this compelling tournament, with national pride at stake, to fans both in the United States and internationally.”
The NHL said it is planning to schedule opening games for the 2016-17 season for Oct. 12, allowing those players participating in the World Cup time to participate in training camps for their respective teams.
According to Don Fehr, executive director for NHLPA, “We are excited to have ESPN as our broadcast partner for what is going to be an incredible tournament featuring over 150 of the top hockey players in the world. ESPN’s reach and storytelling approach will expose our players’ skill and personalities, something that we know will resonate with fans as the tournament unfolds.”
The telecast schedule will be unveiled at a later date.
Live access to coverage on ESPN networks will also be available through WatchESPN on computers, smartphones, tablets, Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox 360 and Xbox One via an affiliated video provider.