Good news hockey fans, ESPN is jumping back into the hockey game! Well, no, the lockout isn’t over and NBC still has the NHL’s rights. ESPN will actually be showing KHL games this season.
It’s an interesting move for a number of reasons. Hockey and ESPN have a history, to say the least. The network dropped the sport when the NHL was locked out back in 2004-05. ESPN attempted to bring it back when the TV rights were available last year, but the NHL decided to stay with NBC.
I supported the league’s decision to stick with NBC. ESPN had shown hockey very little respect in the early 2000s, often sticking games on ESPN2 at 10 pm. NBC and NBC Sports Network have given it much more air time (so long as there’s not horse racing pregame to show) and it gives the league a chance to build on a potential competitor to ESPN. The counter-argument has always been that ESPN is the big leagues and has no competition. It’s their way or the highway.
One important thing to note about this deal is that they will be showing games on ESPN3, not ESPN proper. Yes, Virginia, there is an ESPN3. No, I don’t know if they show competitive dodgeball. It’s an online only station, so they’re not showing this on television. Still, it’s a mainstream format for the NHL’s top competitor and a built-in U.S. audience for a league that features two of the NHL’s biggest stars in Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin among other lesser marquee names from past and present.
Gary Bettman can’t be pleased about any inroads made by the KHL into the USA. You better believe that NHL fans will be tuning in for this. Will this be the incentive that the league needs to hammer out a deal faster? No one knows, but it’s certainly something that Bettman will notice.
It’s something that is good for the KHL, could potentially be good for the NHLPA, and doesn’t help the NHL in any way. The size and stature of the KHL is a major factor in this lockout that was lacking the last time we went through this. Their deal could really be a game changer.
Now if only they could get the Russian Gary Thorne and Bill Clement…