NBC, CBC extend NHL pacts

The NHL got some much needed good news over the last two days, as it successfully renewed its television pacts with NBC and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

NBC and the NHL came to terms on an extension of a revenue-sharing agreement, which was created in 2004 in which no upfront rights fee was paid. NBC has extended the agreement through next season, and has an option to extend it through 2009. NBC also will now have a flexible scheduling arrangement, similar to what it has with NFL games late in the season. This extension comes despite the fact that ratings are down slighty from last year, in households and in the target demos of men 18-34, men 18-49, and men 25-54.

Meanwhile the CBC renewed its deal with the NHL to carry the very popular Hockey Night In Canada for the next six years, extending the deal with Canada’s public broadcaster through the middle of the next decade. HNIC is the longest-running prime-time program in North American history, bringing Canadians together in front of the tube on Saturday nights since 1952.

The CBC deal includes multimedia rights (including live and on-demand streaming video), the All-Star Game and Stanley Cup Finals (NBC in the U.S. will have games 3-7), and Stanley Cup playoff games involving Canadian teams.

Analysis: This marks the first time that the NHL actually got a renewal from a television network in the U.S. Really. This does comes as somewhat of a surprise, given the fact that if you look at the ratings, it doesn’t even deserve a renewal. But there is more to it than that. Unlike with the previous Fox and ABC deals, NBC is paying basically next to nothing for the NHL, and the network is at least giving the league a little more time to grow its U.S. audience, which is basically next to nothing. (You can partly thank the 2004-05 lockout for that.) The NHL needs to improve its standing in many major markets, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. (and needs to get back on ESPN), or the league will continue to struggle.

The move also means that all NHL games on NBC will air on Sunday, with an exception of a few playoff games. While it will compete directly with the NBA on ABC, there’s not much of an overlap with fans of both sports (for proof of this, check out any message boards after a NBA brawl takes place), but there is when it comes to baseball – that’s a different story. The NHL will compete with baseball games on Fox (on Saturdays) and Turner Sports (on Sundays beginning in 2008) during the spring months when the NHL playoffs take place.

And besides, what are NBC affiliates going to air in its place? Paid programming? Desire reruns? The ratings wouldn’t be any better. NBC isn’t losing at lot of money on the NHL (in fact, executives say the deal is profitable), and that’s why it’s back.

As for the CBC deal : While the network has had plenty of missteps over the years (terrible local news, numerous labor problems, budget cuts, rampant mismanagement, questionable programming decisions, the DaVinci’s City Hall debacle – these make even the now-shuttered UPN and WB look good by comparison), this is a reminder that at least somebody in North America knows how to program Saturday nights effectively. Maybe the U.S. networks can learn a thing or two from north of the border. Televised Saturday night hockey games in Canada are traditional; families gather around to root for their favorite team. What’s our Saturday Night tradition? In the ’70’s people stayed home to watch Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family, and M*A*S*H. In the ’80’s, it was The Golden Girls. Today? It’s going to the multiplex to see the latest awful movie with the kids. It’s that bad.

Updated at 13:37 on 2007-03-28

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