National Hockey League games will return to ESPN starting with the 2021-22 season.
ESPN and the NHL announced a seven-year deal on Wednesday, returning hockey to ESPN for the first time since 2004. Included will be 25 regular-season games on ESPN or ABC, early-round playoff series and one conference final each year, four Stanley Cup Final series on ABC and more than 1,000 games per season streaming on ESPN+. ESPN+ and Hulu will be home to 75 ESPN-produced exclusive telecasts per season.
The deal also includes opening-night games, the NHL All-Star Game and Skills Challenge and other special events. The NHL’s out-of-market streaming package (NHL.TV) is also moving to ESPN+ as part of its subscription offerings.
International rights in Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Europe are also part of the deal, as are extensive highlight rights for ESPN’s digital platforms.
Executives from the NHL and The Walt Disney Company underscored the platform-rich offerings as a key part of the agreement.
“This agreement clearly underscores The Walt Disney Company’s leadership in the sports media landscape and serves as a blueprint for sports deals in the future,” Jimmy Pitaro, the chairman of ESPN and sports content for Disney, said in a statement. “We know the power of the NHL and are thrilled to welcome it back as a significant new pillar across our platforms, and we look forward to connecting more deeply and directly with some of the sports world’s most passionate fans.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also lauded the deal. “Not only will this groundbreaking, seven-year deal enable the NHL to benefit from the incomparable power, reach and influence of The Walt Disney Company and ABC/ESPN, it sets a new standard in delivering our game to the most passionate and tech-savvy fans in sports in the ways they now demand and on the platforms they use,” he said in a statement.
ESPN+ currently has more than 12 million subscribers. Hulu has 39.4 million.
The first NHL game on ESPN appeared on Dec. 19, 1979 — a little more than three months after the network premiered. ESPN continued to produce NHL content for the next nine years. After a hiatus, the network became the home for the NHL from 1992 to 2004.
Since then, all games have aired on NBC or its cable properties.