NHL Hockey returns to ESPN and ABC

Stanley Cup in the ESPN Studios

In the Wide World of Sports coverage that is ESPN and ABC Sports, it’s been 16 years since professional hockey has appeared on ESPN, but in a multi-year deal just announced today, the Walt Disney Company and the National Hockey League are joining forces once again.

The new partnership starts at the beginning of the 2021-22 season and runs through the 2027-28 season.

What you need to know about this Disney NHL deal

  • The deal will put the NHL on ABC, ESPN, ESPN+ and Hulu for the next seven seasons.
  • The Stanley Cup Final and Stanley Cup Playoffs will be broadcast on ABC and ESPN.
  • Streaming is a key element in the landmark agreement; exclusive national games stream live on both ESPN+ and Hulu; more than 1,000 out-of-market games available to all ESPN+ subscribers.
  • The first NHL game on ESPN appeared on Dec. 19, 1979. This was just three months after the network premiered. ESPN went on to produce NHL content for the next nine years. After a hiatus, the network was the cable home for the NHL from 1992 to 2004.
  • Since the 2004-2005 season, all NHL games have aired on NBC or its cable properties.
ESPN 2 NHL 2 Night Hosts

“This partnership of the world’s top hockey league and the platforms of The Walt Disney Company is a big win for our fans and our game,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Not only will this groundbreaking, seven-year deal enable the NHL to benefit from the incomparable power, reach and influence of The Walt Disney Company and ABC/ESPN, it sets a new standard in delivering our game to the most passionate and tech-savvy fans in sports in the ways they now demand and on the platforms they use.”

“This agreement clearly underscores The Walt Disney Company’s leadership in the sports media landscape and serves as a blueprint for sports deals in the future,” Jimmy Pitaro, the chairman of ESPN and sports content for Disney, said in a statement. “We know the power of the NHL and are thrilled to welcome it back as a significant new pillar across our platforms, and we look forward to connecting more deeply and directly with some of the sports world’s most passionate fans.”

Kareem Daniel, Chairman, Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution said, “This is the kind of innovative deal that only The Walt Disney Company and our portfolio of media platforms and businesses can bring to life. The combination of streaming leadership with ESPN+ and Hulu, along with our powerhouse ABC and ESPN networks, will bring the NHL into the homes and lives of millions of passionate fans – and help create new ones. It’s a hat trick that delivers incredible value to our partner, our business and consumers.”

Stanley Cup in the ESPN Studios

With NFL rights currently in negotiations, this plays like a bit of a hedge bet for Disney, ABC, and ESPN to make sure they attract new fans to replace those they might leave if they can’t close a deal for football.

The big agreement includes exclusive coverage of the Stanley Cup Final on ABC in four of the seven years of the agreement, with the ability to simulcast/megacast on ESPN+ and additional ESPN networks; the return of live NHL action to ESPN networks with 25 exclusive national regular-season games on ABC or ESPN; 75 national regular-season games per season produced by ESPN that will stream exclusively on both ESPN+ and Hulu; half of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on ABC and ESPN each season; and coverage annually of NHL’s Face-off (opening night games), the NHL All-Star Game and Skills Challenge, plus other NHL special events each season.

Additionally, the NHL’s out-of-market streaming package (aka NHL.tv), with more than 1,000 games, will now be available exclusively on ESPN+.

The agreement also includes extensive highlight rights that will add to coverage across ESPN’s year-round news and highlights programming, and to coverage on the ESPN App and social media. International media rights – including in Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Europe – are also part of the agreement.

The end result, get ready to see a lot of hockey in the upcoming years.