ESPN has declined their option for NHL games next season. Today it is reported that ESPN has ended negotiations with the NHL for televised hockey next year . It looks as though the NHL will have to accept a profit sharing deal with zero upfront money much like they have with NBC. The deal will likely be available in a month or even two, so there is no immediate rush for the NHL to accept this offer. However, the have little to offer ESPN in negotiations and will likely have to take whatever ESPN offers.
If I had the chance to negotiate American TV deals for the NHL, I would accept ESPN's deal but I would like the ability to offer all the games ESPN won't use to any and all other networks that might be able to offer national or semi-national coverage. Let tfhem have the same profit sharing deal that ESPN gets. Offer the games to Fox Sports, Comcast Sports, WGN, Spike TV, TNT, TBS and any other channel. What is there to lose? Worst case they get hockey coverage for a niche market at reduced cost. In a best case scenario, should the Americans win Olympic gold or something, it would be a huge deal for them. If the TV rights must be sold at a low price let everyone buy them. Maybe in the next TV deal there can be a bidding war for exclusive rights.
Will it help sell the NHL in the US? Frankly, I don't care. I am very happy with the niche market NHL we saw in 2003/04, but I would get the chance to see a lot of games on cable. That is something that would keep the fans that stuck with the NHL through the lockout happy. It would really suck for the NHL to return to a non-presence on TV in many of their US markets. That could be prevented. Sell TV rights cheap. Let ESPN have first pick of games (before the season begins) and let the other networks broadcast those they want from the leftovers.