ESPN Adds More Linear TV NHL Telecasts to Schedule

NHL
(Image credit: ESPN)

ESPN dropped the puck Tuesday night (October 11) on its 2022-23 National Hockey League regular season schedule, its second campaign as part of a seven-year deal with the league signed in 2021.

The network’s 103 NHL games will feature more linear TV exposure for the league on ESPN and ABC, as well as less overlap of games throughout the season, according to ESPN officials. The sports network will look to improve on the 616,000 viewers it averaged last season for live NHL regular-season telecasts on ESPN and ABC.

ESPN senior VP of programming acquisitions Ilan Ben-Hanan discusses ESPN’s NHL live-game distribution strategy in an interview with Multichannel News. An edited transcript of that conversation appears below. 

MCN: Going into ESPN’s second season of NHL’s coverage, are you more confident about the network’s distribution of the sport across its platforms?

Ilan Ben-Hanan: Year one was really about establishing our credibility and authenticity. We came into this after few years without being a rights holder of the NHL, and we wanted to make sure that fans knew that they could trust us to cover hockey. We were very pleased with what we were able to do in year one, but like anything else, there's always a learning curve. There were things that we wanted to build on to get ready for in year two, and we feel like we’re ready for them. We're chomping jump a bit as usual to get started here.

MCN: What’s different this year compared to ESPN’s presentation last year? 

IBH: I'll start on the scheduling side just because we work so closely with the league on that. In year one we got the rights deal done a little later in the process, and the schedule had been fairly baked by the time we got a chance to get after it. Still, we put together a good schedule that we were really proud of, and we learned a lot in year one. For example, there’ll be less overlapping of the 103 exclusive games that we have, so this year fans will be able to see all of those games. We’ll also have more doubleheaders or more games spread out over more days of the week to allow for a better sampling opportunity for our exclusive games. We’ll also have three Saturday night games -- last year we only had one, so we're really excited about that and we know the league is excited as well. 

MCN: In general will there be more regular-season games on linear TV channels compared to last year when most of those games were on ESPN Plus?

IBH: We have a slight change in strategy in that respect. Last year of our 103 games, 28 were on linear and 75 were on ESPN Plus and Hulu. This year that split is going to be more balanced – 50 games on linear and 53 games on ESPN Plus and Hulu. It’s an opportunity we saw in our schedule to put the NHL on linear Tv a few more times. ESPN Plus and Hulu remain vitally important to our schedule, and we still have more than one thousand games available [via digital] through our outer market package. 

MCN: With one year under your belt, what are your expectations from an audience and ratings perspective going into the second season? 

IBH: When we announced the deal, we said this was not going to be something measured off just one metric, meaning television ratings. This is really a first-of-its-kind deal for us to have the quality and quantity of games we had available exclusively on ESPN Plus and Hulu. We wanted to make it evident to other leagues and to fans that you could find premier content on a direct-to-consumer service produced with the same level of care, attention and high quality that you'd see on linear. Across all of those metrics, we were very pleased with last year’s results and we hope that continues to build this season. ■ 

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.