Last year, and during the Ice Hockey World Championships I blogged extensively about the television rights and something from today’s locked out NHL news caught my eye. ESPN is in the process of including KHL into its programming on its ESPN3 channel. With NHL relying heavily on TV revenue (part of the revenue that goes into the collective pot that’s now under dispute), the news of ESPN sniffing at KHL could be disastrous news for the NHL.
During the last lockout, NHL lost ESPN as a media partner and has not been able to bring it back to the fold. In fact, Teemu Selanne wrote on his MTV3.fi blog, that ESPN actually picked Texas Hold ‘em poker over the NHL after the last lockout and has not really sniffed at hockey, apart from covering news and bits on its website.
Last summer, the NHL sold its European broadcasting rights to Medge Consulting and AMI partners, which meant that the ‘old continent’ was without hockey on TV when the regular season started. There were various rumours of different deals and what channels would land the NHL and where European viewers could watch the sport, apart through its Game Centre Live application.
As for the TV deal state side, the NHL signed a $2-billion contract with NBC-Universal, part of Comcast Corp’s television arm. The deal would land the NHL on the NBC channels through the next decade and hands the NHL $125-million more per season.
As the NHL is now locked out, the KHL has a huge opportunity to gain more mainstream coverage in North America and why not; the league is now home to some of the games’ brightest stars such as Alex Ovechkin, Pekka Rinne and Jevgeni Malkin to name but a few. Though the KHL has been a big draw for mainly the Russian born NHL players, it wouldn’t surprise me if some Canadian born players will start making their treks across to the Russian league.
Yes, the KHL’s TV deal is what one could call a temporary deal, which includes broadcasting five games for now, but there are rumors floating around in the twittersphere that the league is already in talks with a Canadian broadcaster to include the league within its schedules. Sure the hours of the games might not be sociable to North America, but conversely, the NHL isn’t exactly something you can watch live on a Sunday afternoon if you are based in Europe, but the fact is that if there’s good level hockey to be watched on TV, fans will watch it.
The NHL lockout is probably the best thing that has happened to the KHL. In-fact, the league is working hard to get an English language site and Facebook site set up as well as an English language of equivalent of its GCL. So far the league has published step by step guide on how to subscribe to the Russian version of the online streaming service to broaden its fan base across the globe. The KHL is even playing a match in New York this season and if the NHL can’t sort out its CBA issues, it will only strengthen the proposition of the KHL in the bigger market.
So with ESPN in the bag (at least for a couple of games) the KHL is quickly becoming a formidable threat to the NHL who already announced that it has lost $100-million in lost revenues due to the cancelled pre-season games, but for the KHL it is a time for growth and it has seized the opportunity that the NHL lockout presented. Had the lockout not have happened, I believe the KHL would have pursued North American broadcasting contracts, but it is in a great bargaining position at the moment due to the lockout and has not held back a single stride and is quickly moving to establish itself across the Atlantic.