For a hockey fan, NBC these days could either stand for “No Bloody Cash” or “Not a Bad Contract.”
I gravitate towards the latter.
Ideally, the NHL would have found a mainstream, over-the-air carrier in the United States willing to shell out mega-millions on a new pact. Ideally, I’d be mortgage free, own vacation properties in Hawaii and Monaco and have a full head of my own hair.
In this economic climate, with this product, Gary Bettman and the gang – despite some of the moaning I’m hearing from some fans and colleagues – did OK in extending the revenue sharing agreement with NBC by a couple years.
For starters, NBC does a commendable job with the property. Its broadcast teams are highly credible and its production values are first-rate. And NBC pioneered the “Between the Glass” insider’s position, one of the best innovations introduced to televised hockey in years.
Further, if you subscribe to the theory the NHL needs to be accessible to the majority of the mainstream in order to grow, NBC was it. From what we understand, there were no other bidders, which makes finding leverage in negotiations a little like holding onto a greased-up icicle.
And who’s to say the league won’t turn a profit? Ratings have been improving. If the advertising and sponsorship dollars reappear as the world climbs out of the recession, the NHL could benefit.
The short term of the deal, meantime, is reportedly connected to the long-range. The league wants the conclusion of this contract to coincide with end-dates (summer 2011) for deals with the cable and regional carriers. That way, it’s hoped, a big player (possibly ESPN?) might find the entire package more attractive.
Whether you’re a Bettman supporter or detractor, it’s undeniable he milked the TV cash cow for all it was worth during the earlier portion of his commissionership. After working with Fox in the early 1990s, he squeezed $600 million out of ABC and ESPN over five years in 1998 – despite falling ratings. In short, he knew how to get a favorable deal done.
Don’t you think he would have done the same this time around if it were there?
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
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