National Hockey League on television
The National Hockey League (NHL) is shown on national television in the United States and Canada. With 24 teams in the U.S. and 7 in Canada, the NHL is the only one of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada that maintains separate national broadcasters in each country, each producing separate telecasts of a slate of regular season games, playoff games, and all seven games of the Stanley Cup Finals.
National broadcasting rights in Canada have historically included the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC), a long-standing Canadian tradition dating to 1952. Since the 2014–15 season, Rogers Sportsnet has held the Canadian national contract, sub-licensing a slate of games to CBC, and sub-licensing the national French-language rights to TVA Sports.
Historically, the NHL has never held a long-term exclusive deal with a U.S. national broadcast network prior to 1995. NBC Sports have held the U.S. national rights since the 2005–06 season, airing games on the NBC broadcast network, the cable channel NBCSN, and select playoff games on other NBCUniversal channels.
The NHL is also shown on multiple regional sports networks in both countries.
Broadcasting rights in Canada have historically included the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC), a long-standing Canadian tradition dating to 1952, and even prior to that on radio since the 1920s. The first NHL game to be broadcast on television occurred on October 11, 1952, a French-langugage CBC broadcast between the Montreal Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings. CBC proceeded with its first English-language broadcast a month later on November 1, 1952, televising a game featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. Other previous Canadian broadcasters have included CTV, Global, TSN, Sportsnet; and French-language broadcasts on SRC, and RDS.
The current national television and digital rightsholder is Rogers Communications, under a 12-year deal valued at C$5.2 billion which began in the 2014–15 season, and replaced both CBC and Bell Media as the national broadcast and cable television rightsholders respectively. National English-language coverage of the NHL is carried primarily by Rogers' Sportsnet group of specialty channels; Sportsnet holds national windows on Wednesday and Sunday nights (the latter featuring Rogers Hometown Hockey, which features a pre-game show originating from various Canadian communities). Hockey Night in Canada was maintained and expanded under the deal, airing up to seven games nationally on Saturday nights throughout the regular season across CBC, the Sportsnet networks, Rogers-owned television network City, and FX Canada. While CBC maintains Rogers-produced NHL coverage during the regular season and playoffs through a time-brokerage agreement with the company, Rogers assumes editorial control and the ownership of any advertising revenue from the telecasts. Sportsnet's networks also air occasional games involving all-U.S. matchups.
Under a sub-licensing agreement with Rogers, Quebecor Media holds national French-language television rights for the NHL, with all coverage airing on its specialty channel TVA Sports. TVA Sports' flagship broadcasts on Saturday nights focus primarily on the Montreal Canadiens.
Games that are not broadcast as part of the national rights deal are broadcast by Sportsnet's regional feeds, TSN's regional feeds, and RDS. Sportsnet and TSN split holds regional rights to the Toronto Maple Leafs; Sportsnet holds regional rights to the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks, while TSN holds rights to the Montreal Canadiens (English only), Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets. RDS holds regional French-language rights to the Canadiens and Senators. TSN parent company Bell Media also owns the Canadian rights to the Buffalo Sabres, whose territory includes the Niagara Peninsula in Canada; instead of airing those games on TSN, Bell carries a special Sabres-only channel only on its own systems. Regional games are subject to blackout for viewers outside of each team's designated market.
The league's American broadcast partners have been in flux for decades, airing on networks such as CBS, SportsChannel America, the USA Network, Fox, ABC, ESPN and NBC. Hockey broadcasting on a national scale was spotty prior to 1981; NBC and CBS held rights at various times during that period, with each network carrying weekend-afternoon games during the second half of the regular season and the playoffs, along with some (but not all) of the Stanley Cup Finals. From 1971 to 1995, there was no exclusive coverage of games.
National U.S. television rights are currently held by NBC Sports; its current 10-year, US$2 billion contract, which began in the 2011–12 season, extended and unified rights deals that were first established in the 2005–06 season, when Comcast (through OLN, later Versus) acquired cable rights to replace ESPN, and NBC acquired broadcast television rights under a revenue-sharing agreement to replace ABC. Following the acquisition of parent company NBCUniversal by Comcast, Versus was re-branded as NBC Sports Network, and the company negotiated a new, 10-year, unified rights deal worth nearly US$2 billion. Under this contract, NBCSN usually airs at least two regular season games per week, while NBC airs afternoon games on selected weekends. NBCUniversal holds exclusive rights to Wednesday night games, all games televised by the NBC network, and every game in the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning in the second round. Coverage of the playoffs and the Finals is split between the two networks, with other games shown on CNBC, USA Network, and NHL Network.
As in Canada, games not broadcast nationally are aired regionally within a team's home market, and are subject to blackout outside of them. These broadcasters include regional sports network chains such as Fox Sports Networks, MSG Network, NBC Sports Regional Networks, and AT&T SportsNet. Certain national telecasts on NBCSN, such as non-Wednesday regular season games and first round playoff games, are non-exclusive, and may also air in tandem with telecasts of the game by local broadcasters. However, national telecasts of these games are blacked out in the participating teams' markets to protect the local broadcaster.
Only a handful of regular season games, including the outdoor games, may be broadcast nationally in both countries. A Saturday night Bruins–Canadiens game, for example, would typically air on Hockey Night in Canada across that country but only regionally south of the border in the Boston area. Likewise, a Tuesday night Bruins–Canadiens game may air across the U.S. on NBCSN but only regionally north of the border in the Montreal area.
XM Satellite Radio is the official satellite radio broadcaster of the NHL, as of July 1, 2007. Between September 2005 and June 2007, the NHL's broadcasting rights were shared with both XM and Sirius Satellite Radio and were broadcast on just Sirius before the NHL lockout. XM used to broadcast more than 80% of NHL games, including all the playoffs and finals. Starting with the 2007–08 season, XM broadcasts every game.
The league used to operate an NHL Radio network, through Westwood One, that carried high-profile contests such as the Stanley Cup Finals to stations across the United States. From 2009 to 2015, the league did not have national radio broadcasts, relying only on local broadcast teams. NHL Radio resumed during the 2016 playoffs through NBC Sports Radio.
The league co-owns the NHL Network, a television specialty channel devoted to the NHL. Its signature show is NHL Tonight (formerly NHL on the Fly), which covers NHL news, highlights, interviews, and analysis. The NHL Network also airs live games, but primarily simulcasts of one of the team's regional broadcasters.
There were originally two versions: one for Canadian viewers and a separate one for those in the United States. The Canadian version shut down on September 1, 2015, due to Rogers Communications' acquisition of sole national media rights to the NHL in Canada. The U.S. version will continue to simulcast selected regular season games nationally that are not aired by NBC Sports, as well as be used as an overflow channel during the playoffs.
Out-of-market sports packages
The NHL operates two subscription-based services allowing access to live, out-of-market games; NHL Centre Ice in Canada and NHL Center Ice in the United States offer access to out-of-market feeds of games through a cable or satellite television provider.
The league also offers NHL.tv (branded as Rogers NHL Live in Canada), which allows the video streaming of out-of-market games over the internet, either through the NHL website, smartphones and tablets, digital media players, smart TVs, and video game consoles. In the United States, the service does not carry national games (which are offered through the NBC Sports Live Extra service to authenticated pay television subscribers) or in-market games (online availability varies by broadcaster).
Per its exclusive national television and digital rights contract, Rogers Communications took over Canadian distribution and marketing of both the out-of-market TV and the internet services in Canada as of the 2014–15 season. A number of changes were made to the internet service, which was initially re-branded as Rogers NHL GameCentre Live. Canadian users access the service using a "MyRogers" login account instead of one directly on NHL.com. As part of the transition, Rogers also issued a free trial of the service, lasting through the start of 2015, to all Rogers cable and mobile internet subscribers. The services offers access to national games, along with in-market streaming of regional games. For the first season, it only offered in-market streaming for teams that Sportsnet held broadcast rights to (excluding the Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, and portions of the Toronto Maple Leafs' season, whose broadcast rights are held by TSN) For the 2015–16 season, a TV authentication system (similar to NBC Sports Live Extra in the U.S.) was used to allow in-market streaming for TSN-produced regional games as well. Rogers GameCentre Live also offers "GamePlus", a component featuring alternate camera angles, such as net cams, point-of-view cams, and sky cams. The sky cam are currently only available for Air Canada Centre games, but the remaining Canadian arenas will be equipped for it in the future. GamePlus features were only available to GameCentre Live subscribers who are subscribed to Rogers' cable, internet, or wireless services. For the 2018–19 season, Rogers discontinued the free trials, subscriptions, and additional GamePlus features to Rogers' cable, internet, and wireless service users, and required all users to pay the regular fees. For the 2019–20 season, the brand name for the service was shortened to NHL Live.
On August 4, 2015, the NHL announced a six-year deal with MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM), in which the company will take over the operations of the NHL's digital properties, including websites, apps, and GameCenter Live, beginning in January 2016. MLBAM will distribute GameCenter Live in the U.S. and other international markets, except in Scandinavia (due to Viasat's right deal mentioned below), nor Canada (due to Rogers' rights deal mentioned above). The NHL will also gain an equity stake of up to 10% in a spin-off of MLBAM's streaming media business, whose clients include Major League Baseball, WatchESPN, and HBO Now among others.
Outside of Canada and the United States, NHL games are broadcast across Europe (excluding the UK and Scandinavia) and the Middle East and North Africa on beIN Sports, which takes feeds from NBC, Rogers, and teams' regional broadcasts. In the UK Premier Sports has the rights to the NHL and show 15 games per week. Fox Sports in Australia, on Viasat Hockey in Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark, in the Czech Republic and Slovakia on NovaSport or FandaTV and in Portugal on SportTV. In the Americas, NHL games are broadcast across Mexico, Central America and Dominican Republic on SKY México, South America and the Caribbean on DirecTV. Stanley Cup games can also be viewed in New Zealand on Sky Sport. In Brazil, the games are broadcast on ESPN International.
The aforementioned NHL.tv is also available for people outside Canada and the United States to watch games online, but blackout restrictions apply for example in the UK where they are not allowed to show live games that are being shown on Premier Sports. In Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, Viasat holds the rights to stream games online; users in those countries must instead watch through Viasat's Viaplay service.
Comparisons with TV coverage of the other major leagues in the U.S.
With 24 teams in the U.S. and 7 in Canada, the NHL is the only one of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States that has a national Canadian broadcaster regularly produce separate telecasts of a slate of regular season and playoff games. The differences are most prominent during each league's respective championship series or game. The U.S. broadcaster's feed of the National Football League's Super Bowl, Major League Baseball's World Series and the National Basketball Association Finals is usually simulcast by a Canadian broadcaster (with simultaneous substitution of the commercials). With the prominence of Hockey Night in Canada since the 1950s, and with Canadian teams like the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens making multiple championship runs during the 1970s and 1980s, the Stanley Cup Finals has regularly been produced and aired on broadcast television in Canada.
In those areas in Canada that can receive U.S. stations and those regions in the U.S. that can receive Canadian stations, the separate Canadian and U.S. feeds are broadcast on two TV networks simultaneously. For example, viewers in the Detroit–Windsor area could either tune into NBC's Detroit station WDIV or the CBC's Windsor station CBET.
Summary of branded-nationally televised games
|Day||Sportsnet in Canada||NBC in the U.S.|
|Sundays||Hometown Hockey||NHL Game of the Week (Jan. – Apr.)|
|Sunday Night Hockey (Jan. – Apr.)|
|Wednesdays||Wednesday Night Hockey||Wednesday Night Rivalry|
|Saturdays||Hockey Night in Canada|
- Note 1: During selected weeks, Sportsnet or NBC may broadcast games on other days of the week, and will basically use the generic NHL on Sportsnet or NHL on NBC names, respectively.
- Note 2: For the playoffs, Sportsnet uses the Hockey Night in Canada brand, while NBC used the generic NHL on NBC name.
Primary regional broadcasters
- Altitude Sports: Colorado
- AT&T SportsNet: Pittsburgh, Vegas
- Fox Sports Networks: Anaheim, Arizona, Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Florida, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Tampa Bay
- MSG: Buffalo, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers
- NBC Sports Regional Networks: Chicago, Philadelphia, San Jose, Washington
- NESN: Boston
- RDS (French): Montreal, Ottawa
- Sportsnet: Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto (partial), Vancouver
- TSN: Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto (partial), Winnipeg
- Major League Baseball on television
- Major League Soccer on television
- National Basketball Association on television
- National Football League on television
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- Media related to National Hockey League on television at Wikimedia Commons