Alex Ovechkin talks with ESPN’s Steve Levy and Barry Melrose after winning the Stanley Cup in June 2018. (Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

The NHL has what it came to the 2021 season for.

Despite the steep financial losses, there were several reasons for the NHL to play a modified regular season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most pressing was the league’s American TV deal. The National Hockey League inked a 10-year, $200 million deal with NBC in 2011, only for live sports broadcasting privileges to boon soon after. Though the NHL won’t bring in the billion-dollar-plus broadcasting fees the NBA and NFL command, playing the 2021 season guaranteed the deal would run its course, allowing the NHL to cash in on a much-needed payday.

As you can see, the NHL is behind the eight-ball when it comes to TV revenue. Graphic per Sports Media Watch.

Speaking of the NFL and NBA, one thing they will soon have in common with the NHL: ESPN broadcasting rights. According to a report by Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, the NHL and ESPN have reached a 7-year TV broadcasting contract. The deal would start next season and run through the 2027-28 season. The league has yet to confirm this report.

Not all of the details of the pact are available yet, including the financial terms. It also isn’t certain whether or not this is an exclusive deal. It’s possible NBC remains part of the picture, or another network like FOX comes in. According to Johnston, ESPN is expected to get streaming rights for Disney and the privilege to broadcast four Stanley Cup Finals during their deal. ESPN+ has been streaming select NHL games for several years now, as well as producing the popular “Road to the Stanley Cup” series during each of the last three Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Here’s some more on the current state of the NHL, this time focusing on the on-ice product.

This isn’t the first time that NHL games will be broadcast on ESPN, however. ESPN was the league’s primary broadcaster from 1985 to 1988 and 1992 to 2004. This return is a major win for the league. Despite heavy staff cuts over recent years and obvious financial hardship, ESPN is still the premier sports network in the U.S. As the fourth most popular of the four major sports, growing the game is a major priority. Getting on ESPN, and therefore getting more attention on SportsCenter and the network’s shows are huge for the league.

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