Friday, February 9, 2007

NHL Network: Coming to America?

The time is now for the NHL Network to make it's debut in the US. With the coverage on NBC spotty at best, and the availability of Versus a problem for some there is a definite need. A Canadian version of the network has been on the air since 2001.

The one place where the NHL Network would greatly help is with a nightly highlights show. The NHL has been without one since midway through the '03-'04 season when ESPN pulled the plug on it's NHL2Nite show. They are lucky to get five minutes of coverage now on the ESPN's Sportscenter.

The league currently has a deal in place with Comcast, one of the largest cable companies in the US, to launch the network no later than the summer of 2007. If they fail to do so they would have to pay the NHL a $15 million dollar penalty. According to Andy Strickland, who covers the St. Louis Blues on ESPN Radio 1380, the NHL is currently negotiating with US cable and satellite providers as they try to make a strong push to get the network on the air for the playoff run.

If the NHL network makes it's debut in the United States it would become the third major sports league to broadcast their own cable network following the NBA with it's NBA TV, which debuted in 1999, and the NFL with it's NFL Network, which debuted in 2003. Major league Baseball has also had preliminary dialogue concerning the development of their own cable channel.

The NHL network currently has a deal to broadcast 34 live NHL games during the '06/'07 season. The contract has an interesting clause that says the network cannot broadcast an NHL game while any of the six Canadian teams are playing. As a result they have been forced to show a number of Sunday night games that usually feature the Anaheim Ducks, who seem to have a number of games in that time slot this season. That clause would most likely not carry over to the US version of the network and the result would allow the cable channel to broadcast more games.

The network also has television deals with the American Hockey League and East Coast Hockey League, who have become strong partners in the development of NHL players. They will broadcast 12 live AHL games and 22 live ECHL during the 2007 season that will also include the ECHL's Kelly Cup playoff coverage. They also provide live coverage of NCAA hockey which can be hard to find on US television.

You can make a difference, contact your local cable or satellite provider and tell them you want the NHL Network.

Brighthouse Networks
Cox Cable
Dish Network
Time Warner Cable
Verizon Fios

Click here to visit the NHL Network's homepage.

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