The NHL is about to embark on a new broadcast deal according to a number of media outlets in the USA. Word has it that Comcast a huge cable provider with ties to the Flyers empire will be the lucky recipient of NHL Hockey for 2005-06 for a reported 100 million dollars.
Comcast will broadcast hockey on it's OLN (Outdoor Life Network) operation, a channel that once got its start as a fish and hunting spot on your zapper but has since branched out to more recognizable sports and interests. There is also the possibility of these games being made available in Canada on our version of OLN, a bonus for Canadian fans ready for a break from Big Game Fishing.
ESPN the former rights holder let its contract expire back in June when the NHL was still in the throes of its labour wars, the Sports Network which showed hockey on both the main and the deuce back in 2003 is apparently considering its options at the moment, giving some thought to topping the Comcast bid. Not through any great love of hockey but more as a pre-emptive strike against OLN being turned into a competitive sports channel. A situation I first outlined a few weeks ago. With OLN also testing the waters with the NFL, there is a very real chance that ESPN might begin to see some of its programming options begin to erode, so don't write them out of the NHL picture just yet.
For OLN hockey in the USA would be available at the moment in only 64 million homes as opposed to ESPN's reach of over 180 million. But hockey could end up being the growth engine the channel needs to become a more sought after product on the cable box.
For the NHL the increased interest in its broadcasting options must be rather rewarding to watch. With a need for some positive PR to help launch the new NHL back into the mainstream, having TV networks (albeit Cable ones) starting to scrap over you must be a sign that things are beginning to turn around.
One hopes that the new home of hockey will give us more than the games of the Bruins, Ducks, Predators and other teams feathered or fur laden.