The NHL’s American TV deal has been discussed for years now and after getting ESPN on board earlier this season, the league now has its second partnership with Turner Sports. That means hockey games on “linear” TV stations TNT and TBS, plus coverage on digital properties such as HBO Max.
The dollar amount on the Turner deal has been reported as $225 million per season on a seven-year deal (with ESPN already paying $400 million for the same time period), which is obviously great news for a league trying to mitigate the financial losses associated with a pandemic that has affected two seasons already. But more importantly, it feels like a great fit for the NHL.
“We looked at the strength of the Turner Sports portfolio, which is outstanding,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “They do a great job covering their other major properties. They put a fun and innovative factor into all of what they do and we’re excited to have that treatment for our sport and our fans.”
The best example is TNT’s coverage of the NBA, where the network’s Inside the NBA show is a huge hit, even spilling outside the sports world and into pop culture (Saturday Night Live has taken playful pokes at the show’s hosts, for example). That winning formula is something WarnerMedia news and sports chairman Jeff Zucker is well aware of.
“Obviously there’s a style and approach to Turner Sports and we want to bring that same approach to the NHL here,” he said. “You can’t just copy Inside the NBA on Thursday nights – that comes together over time and relationships. We successfully introduced a new studio show for the NBA on Tuesday nights that has a different feel from the Thursday show and we’re incredibly proud of that. We’re going to bring that same approach to the NHL. We want to have a similar style and approach. That’s being innovative, fun and dynamic.”
Tellingly, the commissioner couldn’t help but immediately reinforce that notion on the Zoom press conference.
“And that’s what we’re excited about,” Bettman said. “We’re counting on it.”
Indeed, while the NHL has an incredibly fast and aggressive product, marketing the game in the United States hasn’t always been easy: many of the game’s greatest stars are team-first players who don’t like talking themselves up. Now, perhaps the next generation will be different, where looser personalities like Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon and David Pastrnak can thrive, not to mention dazzlingly creative newbies like Kirill Kaprizov, Trevor Zegras and Quinn Hughes.
Storytelling will be an important part of unlocking that.
“That’s what I emphasized in my roles here at both Turner Sports and CNN: tell me a story,” Zucker said. “I grew up with Dick Ebersol at NBC and that was what we were always focused on. That’s what I’m focused on when we approach all our sporting partnerships and we’ll bring that same sensibility here.”
Just as important however will be the studio personalities brought in to helm the broadcast desks.
Given the camaraderie and playfulness on the Inside the NBA set, it seems like a younger, more spirited group of panelists than we’ve seen in NBC’s past would be a great route for the new NHL crew (the success of Kevin Bieksa and Jennifer Botterill in Canada points in that direction, too).
Perhaps the easiest move would be to simply poach Paul Bissonnette and Ryan Whitney from the podcasting world and set them up with a TV host who can hang in a setting equal parts rowdy and informative – a Julie Stewart-Binks, for example.
If Zucker and his crew can find some studio magic, the NHL could take another step in cementing its place in the American market. The on-ice product has never been better and the NHL has its exciting new broadcast partners. Now it’s time to put it all together.