Turner Looks To Skate In On NHL Rights After NBCUniversal Bails; Will Pucks Fly On HBO Max?

Turner Sports is preparing to step in and occupy the National Hockey League real estate occupied for nearly two decades by NBC and NBCUniversal.

The changing of the guard in the sports media world — just the latest development in a roundelay of rights transactions in recent months — is a significant one. NBC and NBCUniversal have broadcast games since 2005-06 and were expected to stay in the mix.

No formal announcement has been made, and the league and its media partners have not officially commented on a burst of press reports today. Sports Business Journal initially reported that NBCU bowed out and Turner swooped in, elbowing other suitors aside.

ESPN will still have a large share of the NHL, having recently brought it back after a lengthy absence, planning a fall 2021 puck drop on a multi-year deal. The Disney-owned sports outfit will share rights to the Stanley Cup Final and other games with WarnerMedia’s Turner. A person familiar with the deal terms told Deadline that Turner will pay $225 million a year for seven years, which is notably less than Disney’s $410 million outlay.

Turner, which controls rights to the NBA, PGA golf and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, last broadcast hockey in the 1970s. WarnerMedia and its parent, AT&T, have long promised that some form of live sports will be part of the HBO Max offering but have not confirmed any details. The streaming service, which launched in May 2020, will add a cheaper, ad-supported tier in June.

Streaming has been a major theme in several recent rights agreements, notably the 11-year, $100 billion-plus package of deals involving the NFL. One of the signature elements in the new portfolio is an exclusive for Amazon Prime Video, which paid more than $1 billion a year for Thursday Night Football.

The shift of games away from NBCU would be a significant development given the company’s recent decision to shutter the NBC Sports Network, where many NHL games aired. It will migrate much of its programming to the Peacock streaming service and USA Network.

NHL ratings aren’t what they used to be, but a dedicated core audience does tune in. The start of the Covid-delayed season in January drew record ratings, with just shy of 1 million viewers tuning on for NBCSN’s opening telecast, a network high. Last summer’s Stanley Cup Final, though, plunged 61% from 2019, adding to a worrying trend across all of sports during the pandemic.

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