One of the burning platforms facing the now combined NBC and Comcast is sports broadcast rights, both retaining current rights and winning additional rights to achieve a stronger foothold in the sports television market now utterly dominated by ESPN and its corporate sibling, ABC. Today NBC and Comcast took the first step by announcing a new rights deal with the NHL for approximately $2 billion over ten years.
For the NHL this rights contract signals that the league continues to rebound from the lockout that cost the league the 2004-05 season. Prior to the lockout the NHL enjoyed a rights contract with ESPN and ABC worth approximately $120 million per year. After returning from a year away the best the league could do was $77.5 million per year from Versus and a lowly revenue sharing deal with NBC. However with climbing ratings and the successful Winter Classic now a New Year’s Day fixture the NHL found four groups vying for their broadcast rights package: FOX, Turner, ESPN, and NBC/Versus. After Turner and FOX declared the bidding too rich for their blood, the NHL and Comcast finalized their deal today helped by the fact that as the incumbent, Comcast had the right to match any ESPN bid.
For Comcast, NBC, and Versus this deal represents a retention of a major piece of Sunday afternoon programming in the spring for NBC and the only current excuse for Versus existing. Additional ownership of several regional sports networks leads to additional synergies for the company as evidenced by Versus airing the local feeds for several NHL playoff games over the last week. Next for Comcast are retaining the rights to the Olympics (apparently a hot button issue for NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol and Comcast brass) and the looming Pac-12 football rights as well (in what may come down to a Comcast vs FOX battle).