Much speculation abounded as to whether or not ESPN would go after the NHL TV rights with the NHL's current contract expiring.
Further adding fuel to the fire was the looming NFL lockout and if the potential of no football next season would impact ESPN's desire for the NHL.
All that can be put to rest though. NBC/Versus won the bidding battle, and while no confirmed reports of the exact deal have been made public, it is believed to have gone over $200 million per year.
The 10 year, $2 billion package has secured the U.S. broadcast rights for NBC/Versus.
This marks the largest TV deal for the NHL to date. It even is higher than ESPN's rights deal from 1999-2004 when ESPN paid $120 million per year.
It certainly is a big upgrade from their current contract with Versus, which comes in at an average of $77.5 million per year.
What does this mean for the NHL? Well it secures that it will be on a network that cares about it. The NHL has been good to Versus and Versus treats it accordingly.
Is it bad that the NHL will not be on a more prominent network in ESPN? Possibly. But the NHL has seen considerable growth on NBC/Versus since the lockout.
But regardless, it's clear ESPN did not value the NHL enough to outbid Versus.
Some could argue that even if ESPN would have won the bidding war, they still would have put the NHL in the corner and given it little attention compared to their other programming.
Hockey fans everywhere should be pleased. The NHL has secured itself for years to come and has received a handsome payday. Hockey will continue to grow, as it has every year since the lockout, whether it's on Versus or ESPN.
The only question is will hockey ever get to the level of competing with the likes of the NFL, MLB or NBA?
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