In 2021 the NHL dropped a bomb on the sports media world announcing that they had agreed to terms to give ESPN along with TNT/ABC, a deal that would shape how the game was going to grow over the next 7 years. As a hockey stan (fuck the NBA) I was stoked. ESPECIALLY when I heard it would include game panels including Paul Bissonnette, Mark Messier, sometimes even WAYNE GRETZKY, and more all time greats of the game that we hadn’t seen behind the mic very often. Although they’ve had their BS and have been the butt of many jokes over the years since they essentially just became the Lebron James and Tom Brady network, you felt like the NHL getting a deal with ESPN was a step in the right direction for the best sport on earth getting its deserved spot in the limelight for the next 7 years.
Fast forward two seasons into the deal, and it is becoming clear that is not the case. In the second year of this deal with ESPN/Turner, NHL regular season viewership is down TWENTY TWO FUCKING PERCENT. To make you understand how bad that is more clearly, according to numbers provided by Sports Pro Media that is more than 100k less viewers on average per game for the NHL. Now I don’t work in TV ratings so I don’t know exactly how much $ that’s costing the league, but I’m guessing it isn’t an amount you’ll see on your Venmo Home Page. Another reason this is such a big deal is with all of the escrow being negotiated with the NHLPA and the loss of revenue due to Covid still likely needing to be recovered, the NHL neeeeeds that money man. Without it, the cap will continue to not rise at the rate it needs to so players like this guy can get the asinine salaries they deserve.
Now this is not a piece made for bitching at people to watch more hockey. It is made to roast the business decisions by the NHL and the ass clown at the top of this article. From their ridiculous blackout issues where tens of thousands of fans can’t even watch their own team because of some bullshit local cable deal, to last year where they chose to not send the players to the olympics (after they promised they FUCKIN would), the NHL operates as a business in a way where you’d think they’re actively trying to prevent from growing the game. And now it is becoming clear they got duped in this massive seven year deal with ESPN. My point is this: ESPN did not ink this deal with the NHL to grow the game of hockey, they inked it to grow ESPN + memberships. Why else would they put so may games on a streaming service that people would rather use a sketchy russian website to watch UFC fights (not naming any names here) than buy the streaming service? Sure, they have some solid nationally televised games. But if you tune into their main programming ESPN still does not give a flying, swimming, or floating fuck about hockey. Just ask the most overpaid man in sports media, Stephen A Smith!
So this year the NHL has:
-the most insane tread deadline that we have potentially ever seen for this league
-Playoff races left and right
-Half the league is putting all of their chips on the table for a chance at the Cup, the other half is kamakaze-ing for a chance at Connor Bedard because he is THAT good
-Patrick Fucking Kane is now playing for the biggest market in the league
-McDavid is playing at a level we have never seen anyone play hockey at
-the Bruins might have the best regular season in the history of the NHL
ESPN says and I quote-that a Rangers Stanley Cup win “doesn’t count” and that Stephen A, arguably ESPN’s biggest sports personality states he doesn’t care about hockey. If I’m Bettman I am going scorched Earth on ESPN not just for these comments, but I’m pretty sure I’ve put more effort becoming an astronaut the last year than ESPN has at growing the game of hockey.
If you go to any of ESPN’s other main shows on their roster such as Sportscenter, hockey is nowhere to be found. Connor Mcdavid could play a game in a wheelchair and score a hat-trick but if Lebron made two free throws not only would Lebron get the #1 spot in their top ten plays but the show hosts would need to take a break to change their pants.
If you were excited for hockey to grow thanks to getting on the biggest sports network on planet earth meaning bigger salaries for our guys, NHL players in the olympics, cheaper tickets thanks to increased TV revenue, hold your fucking breath. ESPN is more concerned with how low Lebron’s balls hang in year 20 of his career and how many ESPN + subscribers they can get. And as long as this muppet is running the league, it will not grow at the rate that it should.