Prior to the last lockout, the National Hockey League and ESPN were synonymous with broadcast hockey, but the torch has since been passed to the NBC Sports Network. One of the main reasons for the breakup was due to the Worldwide Leader in Sports lowballing the league on a TV offer. To this day it’s still a sore subject – believed to have hindered the sport’s growth – for many around hockey.
But ESPN might just be taking a step in the right direction as it gives pro hockey and the players of the NHL another chance – only this time the relationship is a little different.
Early Tuesday morning ESPN announced that it signed a broadcast deal with Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League for the 2012-13 season, while the NHL tries to get its act together and end another lockout. But you won’t be able to turn on your TV to see the five games scheduled to air during October. Instead, the network will show the games on ESPN 3 – its online streaming service that’s currently only available on the company’s website. That’s a little disappointing because it means no Gary Thorne and Steve Levy calling games or John Buccigross hosting KHL2Night.
ESPN had to figure it would cash-in on the NHL talent heading overseas, as players continue to head west with the threat of cancellation looming but the network had the same deal with the KHL last year. People don’t really remember that tiny detail because they were too busy watching NHL hockey.
It’s a great move for the KHL – a league that has continued to grow since its inception in 2008 – which will be able to showcase its product and prove it has the competitive capability to rival the NHL. The first game that will air is an October 3 bout against Dynamo Moscow and Ak Bars which will feature Alexander Ovechkin. Do you think ESPN planned that?!
As per their contracts, players will be able to come back to the NHL if – or when – the lockout ends, but who would argue about playing tax free hockey in front of fans starving to see their favorite players. This whole situation has to leave a bad taste in the NHL’s mouth, but that’s okay commissioner Gary Bettman knows the fans will come crawling back.