Breaking Down the Turner NHL Deal


The goods far outweight the bads in the NHL’s massive new deal with Turner Sports. (Courtesy of Twitter)

A few weeks back, the NHL announced that ESPN had won the bid for its American television rights at a staggering $400 million per season. In conjunction with that deal was the announcement of a “B” deal. ESPN would get half of the playoffs every year, four of the next seven Stanley Cup Finals and exclusive streaming rights to 75 NHL games per season. The B deal would be the other half of the playoffs, the other three Cup Finals and other games throughout the regular season. It felt inevitable that NBC would retain their 14-year relationship with the league and grab that B package, but Turner Sports outbid them.

Turner paid $225 million for the B package, outpricing NBC’s reported final offer of $100 million. The games will be broadcast on TNT, where the NBA currently occupies air time in both the regular season and the playoffs. The previous deal’s annual price, which only involved NBC, was $200 million. The annual price of this two network blockbuster is $625 million, during a pandemic nonetheless. 

However, there are some concerning parts of this whole B-package process for the NHL. All of those Cup Final games that Turner possesses will be on cable only, with no broadcast TV during those seasons. They could be streaming on HBO Max, which could bring in a younger audience, but the lack of a broadcast presence is a little concerning, especially because of CBS’ relationship with Turner. For both the NCAA tournament and PGA Championship coverage, TNT and TBS serve as CBS’ cable partners, but they had no interest in joining forces for the NHL deal. 

The question raised here is if Turner had not been interested, where would this package have gone? NBC lowballed the league, FOX never really appeared to be in, and ABC is in already with ESPN. While that is a little concerning, it is not the end of time. Sports fans have TNT because of their extensive NBA and NCAA coverage and will be able to tune in. 

Now that the deal is finally complete, we can officially give Gary Bettman and staff an A on this assignment. NBC’s broadcast had become stale over the years, with the same boring games and an underwhelming lack of personality in the studio. My hopes for both Turner and ESPN are as follows. 

  1. Schedule interesting games. Society has evolved past the need for Chicago against Detroit in every national game. Whatever they can control — unlike Winter Classics and such — I hope they do.
  2. Bigger personalities in the studio. The actual game product on NBC was fine, with Kenny Albert, Brendan Burke, John Forslund and of course Doc Emerick on play-by-play, and Eddie Olzyck, AJ Mleckzo and Dominic Moore on color. But in-studio was stiff at best. Patrick Sharp never seemed to get comfortable, and Jeremy Roenick and Mike Millbury were disastrous from the start. Fresh blood and a new look will be great.
  3. Have a little fun. What makes “Inside the NBA” on TNT the best pregame show on TV is the parts where they don’t talk about basketball. Lighten up, and that will attract the new fan. Now, it looks very stuffy and boring in between periods.

This is a very exciting time for the NHL, and these new broadcast partners will hopefully have a full season of hockey with full arenas to get their feet under them to begin the next seven years.