NHL won't be on ESPN

Network turns down league's 'final offer'

Posted: Thursday, August 18, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — ESPN turned down what it said was the NHL's final offer for cable broadcast rights Wednesday night, meaning it's likely that hockey games will air elsewhere on cable this season.

This is the second time in recent months that ESPN has rejected terms the NHL put forth. Back in June, ESPN declined to pick up a $60 million option under the previous contract. The network, which resumed regular broadcasts of NHL games in 1992, tried to retain the rights for less money in talks with the league and commissioner Gary Bettman.

With ESPN seemingly out of the picture, the league must now find itself a new cable broadcast partner.

Comcast Corp. and the NHL reportedly agreed to a two-year deal worth more than $100 million for games to be shown on The Outdoor Life Network, best known for providing live coverage of the Tour de France.

ESPN had the right to match any television deal the league made. But the network contended that the value of NHL games had dropped substantially following the lockout that wiped out all of last season.

''We worked very hard to build and sustain our relationship with the league and would have liked to continue,'' George Bodenheimer, the president of ESPN, Inc. and ABC Sports said in a statement late Wednesday night. ''However, given the prolonged work stoppage and the league's TV ratings history, no financial model even remotely supports the contract terms offered. We wish the NHL all the best.''

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly didn't immediately answer an e-mail or phone message.

The NHL will begin a two-year deal with NBC for over-the-air broadcasts beginning with the upcoming season. That is a profit-sharing arrangement, a deal similar to what the network has with the Arena Football League and the National Lacrosse League in which it pays no rights fee to televise games.

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