ESPN National Hockey Night was ESPN's weekly television broadcasts of National Hockey League regular season games and coverage of playoff games, broadcast from 1992 to 2004. ESPN had been slated to broadcast games for the 2004–05 NHL season, but the season's cancellation combined with the NHL reaching an agreement with OLN (now NBCSN) to broadcast games for the 2005–06 NHL season effectively ended National Hockey Night after the 2003–04 NHL season.

Coverage overview[edit | edit source]

1979–1982 and 1985–1988[edit | edit source]

ESPN initially covered the NHL during the 1979–80, 1980–81 and 1981–82 seasons by making deals with individual teams.[1][2] This included eleven Hartford Whalers home broadcasts in 1980–81 and 25 the following year.[3] During this time, USA Network also broadcast National Hockey League games. In order to prevent overexposure, the NHL decided to grant only one network exclusive rights. In April 1982, USA outbid ESPN for the NHL's American national television cable package ($8 million for two years).[4][5] In 1984, the NHL asked ESPN for a bid, but then gave USA the right to match it, which it did.[1]

After the 1984–85 season, the NHL Board of Governors chose to have USA Network and ESPN submit sealed bids. ESPN won by bidding nearly $25 million for three years, about twice as much as USA had been paying. The contract called for ESPN to air up to 33 regular season games each season as well as the NHL All-Star Game and the Stanley Cup playoffs.[1][6] The network chose Dan Kelly and Sam Rosen to be the network's first play-by-play announcers, Mickey Redmond and Brad Park were selected to be the commentators, and Tom Mees and Jim Kelly were chosen to serve as studio hosts. ESPN designated Sundays as Hockey Night in America, but also aired select midweek telecasts. ESPN aired its first game, an opening-night matchup between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, on October 10, 1985.[7]

1992–2004[edit | edit source]

From its debut in 1992 until the 2001–02 NHL season, weekly regular-season games were broadcast on Sundays (between NFL and baseball seasons), Wednesdays, and Fridays, and were titled Sunday/Wednesday/Friday Night Hockey. Prior to 1999, these telecasts were non-exclusive, meaning they were blacked out in the regions of the competing teams, and an alternate game was shown in these affected areas. Beginning in 1999–2000 season, ESPN was permitted two exclusive telecasts per team per season. When ESPN started broadcasting NBA games on Wednesday and Friday nights in 2002, the weekly hockey broadcasts were moved to Thursday and the broadcasts renamed to Thursday Night Hockey. Beginning in 1993–94, up to five games per week were also shown on ESPN2 (dubbed "Fire on Ice").

During the Stanley Cup playoffs, ESPN and ESPN2 provided almost nightly coverage, often carrying games on both channels concurrently. Games in the first two rounds were non-exclusive, while telecasts in the Conference Finals and Finals were exclusive (except in 1993 and 1994).

OLN/Versus replaces ESPN[edit | edit source]

Before the 2004–05 lockout, the NHL had reached two separate deals with NBC (who would replace ABC as the NHL's American national broadcast television partner) and ESPN. ESPN offered the NHL $60 million for about 40 games (only fifteen of which would be during the regular season), all on ESPN2, with presumably, only some midweek playoff games, the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final and the All-Star Game airing on ESPN.[8]

NBC's deal involved a revenue sharing agreement with the NHL as opposed to a traditional rights fee, and included rights to six regular season windows, seven postseason broadcasts and games 3–7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. ESPN had a two-year deal that they opted out of after the lockout, leaving the NHL without a cable partner. In August 2005, Comcast (who owns the Philadelphia Flyers) paid $70 million a year for three years to put games (54 or more games each season under the agreement, generally on Monday and Tuesday nights) on OLN, later known as Versus. Due to the abbreviated off-season, the 2005–06 schedule did not offer OLN exclusivity, which they received in 2006–07. Versus would also cover the playoffs and exclusively air Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

NBC has continued to serve as the NHL's long-term U.S. broadcast partner. Following the purchase of NBC by Comcast and the merger of Versus into NBC Sports as NBC Sports Network, the broadcast and cable rights were unified in the 2011-12 season and renewed through 2020–21 season.

Although it has not held rights since, ESPN was the U.S. broadcaster of the NHL-backed 2016 World Cup of Hockey as NBC declined due to programming conflicts,[9][10] while ESPN's subscription platform ESPN+ (which launched 2018) added an NHL studio program, a free daily regular season game courtesy of (which is operated by Disney subsidiary BAMTech), and a Stanley Cup Playoffs documentary series (replacing one produced as part of Showtime's All Access franchise).[11]

Personalities[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "ESPN acquires NHL games Backroom bickering in TV deal", The Globe and Mail, July 30, 1985. 
  3. "Whaler cable plan has Bruins upset", The Boston Globe, June 7, 1981. 
  4. "Now they're playing Cable Wars", The Boston Globe, May 8, 1982. 
  5. Taaffe, William (January 24, 1983). "Getting Down To Business". Sports Illustrated. 
  6. "NHL Finds a Home at ESPN", Philadelphia Daily News, July 26, 1985. 
  7. ESPN BREAKS THE ICE FOR SPORTS FANS WITH CAPS-RANGERS GAME THURSDAY. Sun-Sentinel (October 10, 1985). Retrieved on February 9, 2016.
  8. Lepore, Steve (4 August 2010). The Suitor Tutor, Part 1: On VERSUS and NBC, How Have They Done, and Where the Merger Will Take Them. Puck The Media. Retrieved on 10 May 2011.
  9. Why NHL chose ESPN, Sportsnet for World Cup of Hockey. Yahoo! Canada Inc.. Retrieved on July 29, 2015.
  10. Sportsnet acquires rights to World Cup of Hockey. Rogers Digital Media. Retrieved on 29 July 2015.
  11. "Quest for the Stanley Cup moves from Showtime to ESPN+", Awful Announcing, 2018-04-13. (en-US) 

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