ESPN to start streaming NHL games in spring
A tech deal by ESPN's parent company Disney will allow hockey fans to watch players hit the ice by using an app, Forbes.com announced.
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It appears the NHL is headed back to ESPN starting in 2018 as part of an on-line streaming service and app, which is great news for the NHL, as well as hockey fans who get to renew their love-hate relationship with the American cable sports provider.
First the deal. It's complicated. As reported by Forbes.com, it began with ESPN's parent company, Disney, having already purchased BAMTech, LLC.
BAMTech is an internet video provider that had been spun off in 2015 from MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM), a division of Major League Baseball. While Disney has plans to turn BAMTech into its own version of Netflix starting in 2019, it's also creating ESPN Plus for live sporting events.
ESPN Plus will launch in the spring, according to Disney corporation chairman and CEO Robert Iger. He told investors on Thursday that the new tool "will allow users to access sports scores and highlights, stream our channels on an authenticated basis and subscribe to ESPN Plus for additional sports coverage, including thousands of live sporting events."
The NHL is along for the ride here because BAMTech owns streaming rights for out-of-market NHL games (as well as MLB, and other sports). The NHL signed over its streaming rights for six years, in exchange for a 10 per cent share of BAMTech. The NHL and MLB remain minority stakeholders in the deal, according to Forbes.
Now, this is not an over-the-air television or cable deal -- those rights still belong to NBC through the 2020-21 season.
This is also for Americans. The move is not likely to impact any Canadian viewing or streaming services.
It's good news for the NHL whenever it's part of a launch that includes ESPN. The American sports cable giant seemed to have a love-hate relationship with the sport. It loved to carry games but seemed to hate to give the league proper coverage. Fans complained that hockey always seemed to be at the end of the highlight show.
When ESPN carried NHL games, the NHL hated that ESPN went to highlights and news from other sports between periods, rather than stick with hockey.
ESPN hasn't carried NHL hockey since before the 2004-05 lockout, but was the rights-holder for NHL-backed World Cup of Hockey in 2016. It looked like ESPN had completely given up on the NHL when it laid off its esteemed hockey writers -- Pierre LeBrun, Scott Burnside and Joe McDonald — just as the 2017 playoffs were starting.
ESPN subsequently beefed up its hockey coverage.