The NHL's current TV contract in the United States is clearly not working well at all. The NHL made a big mistake by signing a deal with Versus which is owned by Comcast, Comcast offered up the most money and the NHL in all its wisdom went with the highest bidder, not the best solution for league. The NHL tried to land a deal similar to what it had before the lockout, a 5-year $600 Million deal from ESPN/ABC. Versus offered up a 3-year $200 Million deal and the NHL couldn’t resist the offer. The NHL biggest mistake yet in trying to grow a struggling game in the United States, with the main TV coverage being on a network that is only in 75-80 Million homes, about 20 million fewer homes then ESPN, also not included in that number are restaurants and bars, and almost every restaurant and bar has ESPN.
What the NHL needed most after the lockout was national exposure in the US something it failed to secure because they were blinded by the dollar signs. The NHL's failure to secure national exposure in the US threatens to erase all the gains they have made after the lockout. Since the lockout the NHL has been making great gains in attendance in both the US and Canada something that it struggled with before the lockout, but now seems to have under control, however the next step is growing the game on TV in the US and by the NHL failing to realize that they were far better off at ESPN and ABC threatens the games existence in the US.
In Canada the NHL has continued to grow, and is as strong as it ever has been. CBC announced earlier this year that it has landed a 6 year deal securing TV rights for CBC through the 2014 season. This deal is rumored to be in the neighborhood of $100 Million per season. TSN has also secured a new deal with the NHL, the rumored deal is 4-6 years in length and a price tag of $30-$40 Million per year. This is great news for the NHL as it has secured long term national exposure of the six current Canadian teams, as well as all national exposure of all its teams with the TSN deal.
The NHL recently announced that the NHL network will now be available in the US. This is a small step in the right direction but again the NHL has failed to secure national mainstream exposure in the US. This is a niche channel that only the most die hard fans will add on. This is a band-aid solution to a major problem that has plagued the league since the lockout ended. In order for the NHL to begin to really grow the game they need to secure a mainstream national exposure TV deal.