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NHL’s new rights deal and why Rangers are the envy of soccer’s elite

There is a lot to take in from the NHL’s bumper new rights deal with ESPN, but perhaps the most interesting strategic nugget from ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro was the description of the contract as a “template” for future rights deals.

“As we move forward here, every deal that we are contemplating, every discussion that we have, has an ESPN+ and digital component. That has been the case for several years now, that is not a new thing, but it is important to highlight,” he said.

“As we move forward you can expect to see more [DTC elements in broadcast deals]. This deal is really a template of things to come and how we will be evaluating things as we move forward here, looking through both the linear lens and the direct to consumer lens.”

When you look at it, the NHL deal really is in two parts. The linear element is very top-heavy, with a focus on the league’s showpiece games that still make sense for traditional broadcast, such as the Stanley Cup finals, the playoffs and opening night. The digital side, bulked out by the out- of-market package, is understandably more focused on the avid fan.

If this is, as Pitaro said, a template for ESPN’s future rights acquisitions then it is not too difficult to see how it would apply to both MLB and the NFL.

Prior reports on ESPN’s MLB demands suggest that Disney wants to reduce its regular season linear coverage and focus on the postseason, particularly if the playoffs are expanded as they were in 2020. While seeking to reduce its fee, any new MLB deal would also likely include an increased streaming package for EPSN+.

For the NFL, as has been widely reported, ESPN would like to enter the Super Bowl rotation and be able to make use of the ABC commercial network. If the NHL deal were to be an exact template for the NFL contract, the Sunday Ticket out-of-market package going to ESPN+ would very nicely tick that box.

“Streaming is at the heart of [the NHL] deal and this is a reflection of its role as a critical part of our future,” Pitaro said.

Given the other major league contracts are under discussion, that future could begin to take shape imminently. Sports Pro Media

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