Television networks are learning to live without the NHL, which officially canceled the 2004-05 season Feb. 19.
NBC, which was supposed to start a revenue-sharing partnership with the league this season, said the two-year deal-with two more years at NBC’s option-will remain in place next season. NBC will replace most of the Saturday afternoon games with skiing, skating and lacrosse events, and said it expects the replacements to turn a profit. Some of the programs are time-buy deals.
Another 91/2 hours will be returned to affiliates, who can then program them.
The NHL was supposed to be a centerpiece for ESPN2 this season, but the network said replacement programming-including college basketball-is averaging a 0.4 household rating, compared with the 0.2 rating hockey games generated the previous season.
ESPN’s deal with the league is for one year, with two one-year options, which means it can be canceled at the end of each year. A decision is expected April 15.
Fox Sports Net carries hockey on many of its regional sports networks, and those games have been replaced by a mix of college basketball, college hockey and classic NHL game films.
Historically, games have generated high ratings in hockey-mad towns like Detroit but have performed less well in cities with newer NHL teams. That means the difference between the ratings the NHL generated and the ratings of the replacement programming varies from market to market, a Fox spokesperson said. Hockey airs on nine of the 12 Fox-owned regional sports networks and on eight of the nine affiliated networks.