The National Hockey League is set to return to the ice after a prolonged lockout. This is big news for the league’s second biggest television partner, NBC Sports. Hockey is the NBC Sports Network’s biggest live sports property and necessary programming for the fledgling channel. With Sunday Night Football done for the season, hockey is the sole prominent sports platform that the Peacock can use to promote Major League Soccer to reach large audiences around the country. Although MLS gained some live telecasts last fall because of the lockout, the television relationship between the leagues should be mutually beneficial.
Over the last few years, many soccer fans have opined that the beautiful game is overtaking hockey as the “4th” American professional sport. Yet the recent NHL/NBC/television deal belies that belief. ESPN pays $8.5 million annually for MLS rights, yet that deal is part of a larger SUM/ABC/ESPN package that includes USMNT games and FIFA World Cup. In contrast, the NHL recently announced its new deal which upped its annual fee from $77.5 million per year to over $185 million per season.
Regardless, the fortunes of MLS and the NHL are now intertwined. A successful NBCSN is good for both leagues, with increased ratings for one sport providing a platform for cross promotion and advertisements for the other. The NHL playoffs did very well on television last year and the playoffs coincide with the early parts of the soccer season. Hockey is back and soccer should reap the benefits.