Split Stanley Cup Finals? ‘Inside the NHL?’ What we know about the NHL’s new media rights deals

Starting next season, NHL games will air on network properties no longer affiliated with (or on) NBC, whose exclusive broadcast rights deal with the league will expire at the end of this year's Stanley Cup Final. 

The NHL knew the right business decision would be to partner with multiple broadcast entities. NBC is no longer one of them, as ESPN (more broadly, the Walt Disney Company) and Turner Sports (more broadly, Warner Media) are the rightsholders.

Each partner brings visibility — and pays hundreds of millions of dollars yearly — to a league in need of just that. 

“We’ve had ongoing conversations for the last several months and the last few weeks it raised to a new level,” WarnerMedia news and sports chairman Jeff Zucker said Tuesday during a joint announcement with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. 

To better understand how this changes consumption of the league, here's what you need to know: 

The breakdown 

Both the ESPN and Turner deals are for seven years and will expire after the 2027-28 season. 

ESPN has the upper hand and might be considered the "primary" broadcast partner in this arrangement because ABC will air four of the next seven Stanley Cup Finals every other year, beginning in 2022. 

Turner will broadcast the three Stanley Cup Final in the years between. 

Before the Cup Final, the two networks will split the first two rounds of the playoffs and the conference finals. 

Turner will have the broadcasts for the annual Winter Classic on New Year's Day. 

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The Winter Classic will be aired on Turner during the new NHL broadcast deal. (Photo: Jerome Miron, USA TODAY Sports)

Twenty-five regular-season games will air on either ESPN or ABC, while an additional 75 games will stream on ESPN+ and Hulu. Every out-of-market game previously available through NHL.TV will be on ESPN+, which will replace NHL.TV. 

Turner has rights to 72 regular-season games. 

When will games air? 

With nearly three times as many games going on linear TV compared to ESPN, and a robust sports programming schedule already (MLB, NBA, AEW), Turner must figure out which night of the week it wants to emphasize NHL coverage. 

But Zucker offered little information on that and said those decisions will be made in the coming weeks. 

The NBA currently airs on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The MLB playoffs shouldn't provide many hurdles, but the introduction of Tuesday night games certainly will. AEW currently owns Wednesdays on TNT.

Of course, Turner also has TBS at its disposal and will be putting plenty of games there. 

On the ESPN side, a weekend day contest on ABC makes sense, as does a midweek offering for the cable channel.

How much money are the deals worth? 

Neither network is going to shout, and the NHL wants to be coy. 

“It’s good (for the league),” Bettman said, although he would not disclose the terms of either deal.

According to the New York Post, the Disney deal is around $400 million per year, while Turner pays about $225 million annually.

“We think the arrangements we have now are much more reflective of the value we bring as compelling content,” Bettman said.

How will the money affect the salary cap? 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, likely not much, at least in the short term. 

Bettman said the salary cap will remain flat until the money placed in escrow, a condition in the six-year CBA agreed upon last year as part of the "return to play" plan, is paid off. The increase in money might shorten the timeframe of the cap remaining stagnant, though. 

The digital aspect 

With ESPN placing games on ESPN+, its direct-to-consumer platform, Turner could do the same with HBO Max under the WarnerMedia umbrella. 

Zucker explained that won't be the case in 2021, but the option exists. 

"That will happen in the years to come as HBO Max continues to grow and as it becomes a bigger home of these kind of events," he said. "For now, the focus will be on the Turner networks." 

Turner also plans on leveraging its digital properties through the deal, since Bleacher Report and House of Highlights have gained access to NHL highlights through the deal. 

“We’ve got a real fire hose with Bleacher Report and House of Highlights to reach younger viewers in a way that is pretty unique in the sports landscape," Zucker said. "Bleacher and HoH and their social reach is unparalleled. That’s something we’re very excited about in this construct." 

Inside the … NHL? 

Turner's NBA coverage, especially studio show "Inside the NBA," has garnered praise over the years and the Emmy awards are proof of success.

It won't happen overnight — and the personalities available to them won't rival the likes of Shaquille O'Neil, Charles Barley and Kenny Williams — but both the league and Turner are aware of the value that organic programming can provide for viewership and popularity overall. 

“It’s the sensibility and the style that we approach our coverage with that we will also bring here," Zucker said. "And I think that’s innovative, fun and dynamic, and I think, again, that’s widely recognized with our NBA coverage, so that’s what want to do with the NHL.”

Bettman interjected: “That’s what we’re excited about. We’re counting on it.”

Zucker had no announcements regarding any hosts or analysts for those future shows. 

ESPN, Turner already share NBA rights

Disney and WarnerMedia are the two network broadcast partners for the NBA, so there's a level of familiarity and institutional knowledge that exists.

That will make the scheduling easier, and there will be opportunities for cross-promotion. 

“I know Adam Silver is incredibly excited to have the NHL as part of this family as well," Zucker said. "I’ve spoken to him and he has expressed that. I think everybody feels good about it and the history bodes very well for this.”

Current NBC deal won't be affected

Bettman was clear he had assurances NBC would honor its end of the contract and wouldn't diminish the caliber of the broadcasts. 

“NBC has re-confirmed that to me," he said. "We should expect no difference in the treatment that we are going to get compared to what we’ve gotten over the length of our relationship.

“We part as friends and look forward to the future, with each of us understanding why we made the decisions we both made to reach this point.”

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.

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