Patrick Kane 88 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates after he scored the game winning goal in the second overtime period against the Los Angeles Kings during Game Five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The National Hockey League took a hit from Walt Disney Walt Disney owned ESPN ESPN a decade ago but has recovered to score big with Comcast Comcast.
In 2005 ESPN decided not to exercise its $60 million option to televise NHL games and Comcast scooped up the rights for its OLN channel for roughly $200 million over three years. ESPN was concerned about hockey s low ratings and the possible impact of the 2004 05 lockout. The potential problem for the NHL ESPN was in 90 million homes and ESPN2 89 million homes versus 63 million households for OLN. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was harshly criticized for taking more money and a smaller audience.
But ESPN never gave hockey the attention it deserved and Comcast which owned the Philadelphia Flyers grasped the sport s potential. The cable company was also adding programming for its regional sports networks and willing to invest in its coverage because it was preparing to take on ESPN by launching a national sports cable channel now called NBC Sports Network.
In 2010 Comcast signed a 10 year $1.9 billion deal with the NHL and in early 2011 Comcast took control of NBCUniversal in by acquiring 51% of the media company from General Electric General Electric expanding the sport s coverage to 20 networks and 40 digital platforms and bought the remaining 49% earlier this year. Comcast televised every Stanley Cup Playoff game nationally for the first time in the 95 year history of the NHL last season and did so again this year.
Ratings have been through the roof from the first round through the first two games of the finals with the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks. And the NBC Sports Network has significantly closed the gap in households with ESPN and ESPN2.
For the NHL Comcast has been better than ESPN. The proof is in the numbers.
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