ESPN National Hockey Night
Starring Gary Thorne
Bill Clement
John Davidson
Erin Andrews see below
Theme music composer Bob Christianson
Country of origin Flag of the United States United States
Original language English
No. of seasons 18
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 180+ minutes
Original network ESPN (1979–1982, 1985–1988, 1992–2004, 2021–present)
ESPN2 (1993–2004)
ESPN+ (2021–present)
Original release December 19, 1979 (1979-12-19) –
1982, 1988, 2004
Preceded by NHL on SportsChannel America
Followed by NHL on NBC
Related shows NHL on ABC
NHL 2Night
External links

ESPN National Hockey Night is the name of National Hockey League (NHL) regular season and playoff games broadcasts on the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) family of networks.

ESPN first televised National Hockey League (NHL) games in the 1979-80 season, initially by sub-contracting rights from individual franchises. After the NHL shifted to only having one exclusive national rightsholder, ESPN acquired the cable rights from 1985 to 1988 to replace USA Network, after which they were acquired by SportsChannel America.

ESPN initially regained the rights from 1992 through the 1999–2000 season, with the coverage branded under the blanket title ESPN National Hockey Night, and sub-licensed broadcast television coverage to ABC (sister via ESPN parent The Walt Disney Company) until 1994, when the NHL sold a broadcast television package to Fox Sports instead. In 1999, ESPN renewed its contract, with ABC returning as broadcast television rightsholder.

The contract lasted through the 2004–05 NHL season, which was cancelled due to a lockout of the NHL Players Association. While ESPN had reached a two-year agreement to serve as cable rightsholder in a reduced capacity (with a smaller package of games and playoff coverage primarily on ESPN2) alongside new broadcast rightsholder NBC, the network opted out, resulting in OLN (now NBCSN) acquiring the cable rights instead.

In March 2021, the NHL announced that it would return to ESPN networks under a seven-year contract beginning in the 2021–22 season, under which ESPN/ABC and ESPN+ will both hold rights to packages of regular-season games, and share in coverage of the playoffs with a second rightsholder to be determined (including alternating rights to the Stanley Cup Final).

Coverage overview[edit | edit source]

Early years: 1979–1982 and 1985–1988[edit | edit source]

ESPN initially covered the NHL during the 1979–80, 1980–81[1] and 1981–82[2] seasons by making deals with individual teams.[3][4] This included eleven Hartford Whalers home broadcasts in 1980–81 and 25 the following year.[5] Branded as ESPN Hockey, Sam Rosen,[6] Barry Landers, and Joe Boyle were the play-by-play announcers.[7][8] Pete Stemkowski[9] was the lead color commentator. ESPN meanwhile, used "Hot Lunch Jam" by Irene Cara for its theme music. During the opening round of the 1982 playoffs, ESPN broadcast Game 4 of the series between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins and Game 2 of the series between Minnesota North Stars-Chicago Black Hawks,[10] with Sam Rosen and Pete Stemkowski on the call. The season prior, Rosen and Stemkowski called Games 3 and 4 of the playoff series between the St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins.

During this time, USA 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).[11][12] In 1984, the NHL asked ESPN for a bid, but then gave USA the right to match it, which it did.[3]

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.[3][13] 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 analysts, 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.[14]

At the end of the 1987–88 season, ESPN lost the NHL television rights to SportsChannel America,[15][16] who paid US$51 million[17][18][19] ($17 million per year[20]) over three years,[21] more than double[22][23] what ESPN had paid ($24 million) for the previous three years[24] SportsChannel America managed to get a fourth NHL season[25] for just $5 million.[26][27][28][29][30][31][32]

SportsChannel America was only available in a few major markets (notably absent though were Detroit, Pittsburgh and St. Louis[33])[34][35][36] and reached only a 1/3 of the households that ESPN did at the time.[37][38][39] In the first year of the deal (1988–89), SportsChannel America was available in only 7 million homes, compared to ESPN's reach of 50 million.[40] By the 1991–92 season,[41] ESPN was available in 60.5 million homes, whereas SportsChannel America was available in only 25 million.[42][43]

NHL comes back to ESPN: 1992–2004[edit | edit source]

When the SportsChannel deal ended in 1992, the league returned to ESPN for another contract that would pay US$80 million over five years.[44][45][46]

Until the 2001–02 NHL season, weekly regular-season games were broadcast on Sundays (between NFL and baseball seasons), Wednesdays,[47] and Fridays,[48] 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. During the Stanley Cup playoffs, ESPN and ESPN2 provided almost nightly coverage, often carrying games on both channels concurrently.[49] Games in the first two rounds were non-exclusive, while telecasts in the Conference Finals and Finals[50][51][52] were exclusive (except in 1993[53] and 1994). Beginning in 1993–94, up to five games per week were also shown on ESPN2, branded as NHL Fire on Ice.[54]

Sister broadcast network ABC also aired NHL games during the first two seasons of the contract, in the league's first network television broadcasts since NBC's previous contract in the 1970's.[55] In the first season, this included selected playoff games,[56][57] and later expanded to include a package of regular season games in the second season.[58] Officially, these telecasts were produced by ESPN, and were time-buys on ABC by ESPN Inc.[55] This arrangement ended in the 1994–95 season, when the NHL began a new contract with Fox as its broadcast television partner.[59]

In 1998, ESPN renewed its contract through 2004 for $600 million, beginning in the 1999–2000 season. Under the new contract, ESPN was permitted two exclusive telecasts per team per season, while ABC would also return as broadcast television rightsholder to replace Fox.[60][61][62][63]

Move to NBC and OLN: 2005-2021[edit | edit source]

Before the 2004–05 lockout, the NHL had reached two separate deals with NBC (who would replace ABC[64][65][66] 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.[67][68][69][70]

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[71] (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[72] 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 the 2020–21 season.

ESPN+ involvement, return to the NHL: 2018-present[edit | edit source]

Long after losing their broadcasting rights to the NHL, ESPN served as the U.S. broadcaster of the NHL-backed 2016 World Cup of Hockey, as NBC declined due to programming conflicts.[73][74] After its 2018 launch, ESPN's subscription streaming service ESPN+ 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).[75]

On March 10, 2021, ESPN and the NHL announced that the network had agreed to a seven-year agreement to hold half of its new media rights beginning in the 2021–22 season;[76][77]

  • ESPN will hold rights to 25 exclusive national games per-season, which can air on either ESPN or ABC.
  • ESPN will hold exclusive rights to opening night games, the All-Star Game, and other "special events".
  • 75 ESPN-produced games per-season will stream on ESPN+, and also be available on Hulu. These will also be exclusive national games, and thus will not be available on either national or local TV.[78]
  • The NHL's digital out-of-market package will be discontinued and integrated into ESPN+.
  • ESPN and ABC will share in coverage of the Stanley Cup playoffs, holding rights to "half" of the first and second round games, and one conference final per-season.
  • ABC will exclusively air the Stanley Cup Finals in four out of the seven seasons of the contract. ESPN will have the ability to air "Megacast" coverage with alternate feeds on its other channels and platforms.
  • ESPN will produce a weekly studio program dedicated to the NHL, and hold various highlights and international rights.

Personalities[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Quinn, Hal. "THE NHL COMES OF AGE", Maclean's, January 19, 1981. 
  2. Clark, Cammy. "NHL okays ESPN deal", Tampa Bay Times, September 3, 1992. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "ESPN acquires NHL games Backroom bickering in TV deal", The Globe and Mail, July 30, 1985. 
  5. "Whaler cable plan has Bruins upset", The Boston Globe, June 7, 1981. 
  6. Halberstam, David J.. "Sam Rosen: 21 Years Covering the NFL on Fox and 34 Seasons as Voice of the NY Rangers", Sports Broadcast Journal, March 27, 2018. 
  7. Haggar, Jeff. "The 1979 debut of Dick Vitale as an ESPN college basketball analyst", Classic TV Sports, December 3, 2012. 
  8. Agness, Scott. "Joe Boyle on Dick Vitale and His Son", NBA, December 11, 2013. 
  9. Rosen, Ron. "Penalty Box Looms for Ex-NHLer", The Washington Post, March 25, 1982. 
  10. "Sports Briefs", UPI, April 6, 1982. 
  11. "Now they're playing Cable Wars", The Boston Globe, May 8, 1982. 
  12. Taaffe, William (January 24, 1983). "Getting Down To Business". Sports Illustrated. 
  13. "NHL Finds a Home at ESPN", Philadelphia Daily News, July 26, 1985. 
  15. Sarni, Jim. "PICK ANY HOUR -- OR HEMISPHERE -- TO TUNE IN COSTAS", Sun–Sentinel, August 19, 1988. 
  16. Blockus, Gary. "MAYBE ESPN DID FANS A FAVOR IN LOSING THE NHL", The Morning Call, November 16, 1988. 
  17. Kunz, William M.. The Political Economy of Sports Television. 
  18. Chad, Norman. "SPORTSCHANNEL AMERICA INTERESTED IN BUYING HTS", The Washington Post, June 22, 1988. 
  19. Springer, Steve. "NHL 1991-92 : There’s a Lot Not to Watch : Hockey: There is no national TV, no collective bargaining agreement and no Eric Lindros. But there are Sharks.", Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1991. 
  20. Greenberg, Jay (October 8, 1990). "THE BUCKS START HERE". Sports Illustrated. 
  21. "The News - Apr 2, 1991",, April 2, 1991. 
  22. Chad, Norman. "NHL AND SPORTSCHANNEL MORE IS LESS", The Washington Post, November 26, 1988. 
  23. Bass, Alan (25 January 2011). The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed the Nhl Forever. iUniverse, 198. ISBN 9781450286077. 
  24. Demak, Richard (March 18, 1991). "SHOOTING STAR". Sports Illustrated. 
  25. Shea, Jim. "NHL, SPORTSCHANNEL SIGN ONE-YEAR DEAL", Chicago Tribune, October 4, 1991. 
  26. Joe, LaPointe. "HOCKEY; N.H.L. Again Signs Contract With SportsChannel America", New York Times, October 4, 1991. 
  27. Demak, Richard (February 17, 1992). "SCORECARD". Sports Illustrated. 
  28. Gatehouse, Jonathon (October 2012). The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the NHL and Changed the Game Forever. Triumph Books, 158. ISBN 9781623686567. 
  29. Nidetz, Steve. "NHL FEELS PINCH IN TV DEAL", Chicago Tribune, October 4, 1991. 
  30. Moshavi, Sharon D. (January 13, 1992). BC-1992-01-13.pdf, 78. }
  31. "Lack of TV contract doesn't shake up NHL", The Baltimore Sun, September 26, 1991. 
  32. Shea, Jim. "NHL, SPORTSCHANNEL SIGN ONE-YEAR DEAL", The Hartford Courant, October 4, 1991. 
  33. Strachan, Al. "NHL needs a TV partner", Toronto Sun, March 15, 2005. 
  34. Swift, E.M. (August 22, 1988). "WOE, CANADA". Sports Illustrated. 
  35. Martzke, Rudy. "NHL broadcast boss pleased with cable move", May 2, 1989, p. 3C. 
  36. Staudohar, Paul D. (31 May 2018). Playing for Dollars: Labor Relations and the Sports Business. Cornell University Press, 138. ISBN 9781501717857. 
  37. Staudohar, Paul D. (1996). Playing for dollars: labor relations and the sports business. Cornell University Press, 137. 
  38. Taaffe, William (June 27, 1988). "A Better Open; Too Much Brent". Sports Illustrated. 
  39. Ryan, Bob. "Underexposed NHL needs to write Dear John letter to Ziegler", Baltimore Sun, October 3, 1991. 
  40. Greenberg, Jay (October 7, 1991). "GREED, INDEED". Sports Illustrated. 
  41. Nidetz, Steve. "NHL`S TV POLICY RILES ANNOUNCERS", Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1992. 
  42. Tilsner, Julie. "The Puck Stops Here For Espn", Bloomberg, October 11, 1992. 
  43. Gatehouse, Jonathon (October 2012). The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the NHL and Changed the Game Forever. Triumph Books, 158. ISBN 9781623686567. 
  44. Clark, Cammy. "NHL okays ESPN deal", Tampa Bay Times, September 3, 1992. 
  45. Swift, E.M. (October 19, 1992). "DON'T CHANGE THAT CHANNEL". Sports Illustrated. 
  46. Shea, Jim. "SPORTSCHANNEL SUES OVER NHL DEAL", Hartford Courant, September 4, 1992. 
  47. Sandomir, Richard. "Picture Is Fuzzy for N.H.L. on Networks", The New York Times, February 22, 2005. 
  48. Shea, Jim. "NHL, SPORTSCHANNEL SIGN ONE-YEAR DEAL", The Hartford Courant, October 4, 1991. 
  49. Shea, Jim. "NEVER BETTER: ESPN EXCELS WITH STANLEY CUP FINALS", The Hartford Courant, June 27, 1994. 
  50. "Fox, ESPN ink deals with NHL", UPI, September 13, 1994. 
  51. Shaprio, Leonard. "In Stanley Cup Faceoff, Fox, ESPN Play to a Draw", The Washington Post, June 13, 1998. 
  52. Kent, Milton. "ESPN's Clement feels Caps' pain, revels in success", The Baltimore Sun, June 11, 1998. 
  53. Frager, Ray. "ESPN gives hockey its moment on center ice", The Baltimore Sun, May 28, 1993. 
  54. Nidetz, Steve. "ESPN2 TAKES AIM AT YOUNG, RESTLESS", Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1993. 
  55. 55.0 55.1 Shea, Jim. "SELECT FEW WATCHING NHL ON ABC", The Hartford Courant, May 7, 1993. 
  56. "NHL governors "ecstatic' over reported TV package", August 27, 1992, p. E2. 
  57. E.M. Swift (June 20, 1994). "Hot Not". Sports Illustrated. 
  58. Rudy Martzke. "NHL's new boss ready to clear up confusion", February 5, 1993, p. 3C. 
  59. Richard Sandomir. "Fox Outbids CBS for N.H.L. Games", September 10, 1994. 
  60. Goldberg, Jeff. "FOX PROBABLY GRATEFUL TO ICE THE PUCK", Hartford Courant, April 23, 1999. 
  61. Kent, Milton. "Final meltdown of relationship between Fox, NHL begins today", The Baltimore Sun, June 8, 1999. 
  62. "Stars' 1-0 triumph brings in viewers", ESPN, Jun 9, 2000. 
  63. Hirsley, Michael. "PRICE FOR NHL RIGHTS IS RIGHT, DISNEY SAYS", Chicago Tribune, August 26, 1998. 
  64. Umstead, R. Thomas. "ESPN Lands $600M NHL Deal", Multichannel News, August 31, 1998. 
  65. Pergament, Alan. "WITH FOX GONE, NHL TURNS ALL-DISNEY", The Buffalo News, September 30, 1999. 
  66. "NHL Ratings Jump A Little", CBS News, June 22, 1999. 
  67. 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.
  68. Sarni, Jim. "NBC, ESPN TELECAST DEALS A MAJOR LIFT FOR NHL", Sun Sentinel, May 20, 2004. 
  69. Marchand, Andrew. "NBC, ESPN CUT NHL DEAL", New York Post, May 20, 2004. 
  70. "ESPN, NHL Renew Television Deal", NHL, May 18, 2004. 
  71. Rovell, Darren. "ESPN decides not to match Comcast's offer", ESPN, August 17, 2005. 
  72. Stewart, Larry. "NHL Is Pleased With TV Deal", Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2005. 
  73. Why NHL chose ESPN, Sportsnet for World Cup of Hockey. Yahoo! Canada Inc..
  74. Sportsnet acquires rights to World Cup of Hockey. Rogers Digital Media.
  75. "Quest for the Stanley Cup moves from Showtime to ESPN+", Awful Announcing, 2018-04-13. (en-US) 
  76. "NHL back on ESPN with 7-year multiplatform deal", ESPN, March 10, 2021. 
  77. ESPN officially announces new TV deal with NHL, featuring 25 games on ABC or ESPN, 75 exclusive games on ESPN+ and Hulu, new studio show (en-US) (2021-03-10).
  78. Winners and losers of the NHL's TV deal with ESPN (en-US) (2021-03-11). “[Y]ou'll not only need a cable or satellite subscription to access your team's RSN and ESPN, but you'll also need a subscription to ESPN+ or Hulu. 75 games will be streaming exclusive in this TV deal, and while you previously got everything you needed with the cable sub, you now will need to jump into the streaming waters to see every game.”

External links[edit | edit source]


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