From fans to revenues to the game itself, the 2012 NHL lockout has put many of the sport's essential aspects on thin ice.
Their 10-year, $2 billion contract with NBC and NBC Sports Network? Not so much.
That is, until now. While NBC has remained tolerant of the lockout and loyal to their deal, the television giant was bound to turn toward a sports alternative at some point—and now that time has come.
The Comcast-owned collection of networks announced Sunday a three-year U.S. television deal with the Barclays Premier League (EPL), England's 20-team soccer confederation that includes household names Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.
NBC's English-language networks will televise six live games a week. English-language broadcasts will primarily be on cable channel NBC Sports Network.
NBC Sports Network's biggest property is the NHL, whose season runs concurrently with English soccer. The EPL will be a good complement to the network's hockey coverage...adding live soccer games in the morning and afternoon to prime-time NHL broadcasts.
Clearly, however, NBC's bold move is in direct response to the NHL's actions, which brought in record revenues and solid ratings last season but has already canceled games through Nov. 30 this season.
With soccer quickly gaining American attention following the success of the 2010 Men's World Cup, 2011 Women's World Cup, 2012 Men's Euro Cup and 2012 Olympic soccer tournaments, NBC Sports Network has now added a sport popular enough to compete with the NHL—something that Formula One racing, bull riding and fishing could not.
Scheduling could also pose a problem, as, in normal years, both the NHL and EPL run on similar timetables. The 2011 NHL season ran from Oct. 6 to Apr. 7; the 2012 EPL season began on Aug. 18 and will conclude on May 19.
But will the EPL truly jeopardize NHL coverage? As Chris Botta of the Sports Business Journal points out, the money still indicates hockey as NBC's biggest investment:
NBC pays NHL $200 mill per season. EPL getting $83 mill per from NBC. Premier League doesn't have playoffs.
Television ratings also point in the NHL's favor.
No MLS on NBC soccer game has recorded an overnight rating higher than 0.4 this season, while Sunday afternoon NHL on NBC games drew ratings around 1.0 in 2011-12, the Winter Classic recorded a 2.4 rating and the six 2012 Stanley Cup Finals games drew ratings as high as 2.6.
The EPL may be a step up over the MLS, but only a small portion of games will actually be shown on NBC. The NHL, on the other hand, lands on the parent network every Sunday during typical seasons and on many nights during the postseason.
For now, the EPL's projected effect on NBC NHL coverage remains decidedly indecisive.