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Variety Asks TNT, ESPN Executives To Detail Their NHL Plans

“Look for the Turner broadcast and studio shows to adopt the tried and true methods from Inside the NBA.”

Russ Heltman

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Courtesy: NHL, ESPN, Turner

TNT and ESPN are taking over NHL rights starting this season, and the two sides are ready to put their stamp on NHL coverage — while hopefully attracting new fans along the way.

Variety interviewed multiple executives from Turner and ESPN to see how each affiliate plans to attack its new properties. The Worldwide Leader is using the strength of its Monday Night Football property to expose its football audience to the new slate of games that starts airing the very next night.

“We haven’t had hockey in close to 20 years,” said Mark Gross, ESPN senior vice president of production and remote events, in an interview with Variety. “When you lose a property, and then you get it back? That doesn’t happen every day.”

Spending 16 years with one main broadcast partner is a rarity in today’s spliced media environment. Now, the NHL is banking on ESPN and TNT after ending its time with NBC. Those two sides are trying to return the favor with innovative plans for the property.

“It’s been quite a few years since we’ve had a rights package with this much significance for us to sink our teeth into,” said Tara August, senior vice president of talent relations and special projects for Turner Sports.

Loyalty alone isn’t driving this commitment; the Benjamins are the biggest factor in this newfound push for hockey. Turner is paying around $200 million per year for its smaller package, while ESPN is paying roughly $400 million. For context, NBC paid the league $200 million for lone control of the rights.

One of the biggest wrinkles coming to Turner and ESPN broadcasts are jersey chips. “You can track the players along with the puck and experiment with data,” says Craig Barry, Turner Sports’ chief content officer.

Look for the Turner broadcast and studio shows to adopt the tried and true methods from Inside the NBA

“We really just want to be genuine. That’s what resonates with fans. Whenever they see any of our coverage, our games, and our studio announcers, they are really taking just like you talk at home,” August said. “It’s conversational. It’s cool. They don’t mind if they make fun of themselves or one another.”

While Gross discussed some details on a format for The Point which will “not necessarily be hard-core X-O hockey,” he told Variety. “It’s less about scores and more about showcasing the players, showcasing the league, showcasing the different storylines that are there.”

John Buccigross is hosting the new ESPN studio show dedicated to all things NHL.

ESPN and TNT have plenty of innovations ready to try out when a new era of the NHL on TV begins next week.

Sports TV News

ESPN Creates ACC/SEC Challenge

The series will begin for the 2023-2024 season, launching with 28 games played between the two sports.

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ESPN, in conjunction with the ACC and SEC, is slated to announce the creation of the ACC/SEC Challenge for men’s and women’s basketball.

The series will begin for the 2023-2024 season, launching with 28 games played between the two sports. That number will grow to 30 contests when the SEC expands for the 2025-2026 season.

Every game in the challenge will be aired on an ESPN platform, with each side hosting the same amount of home games.

The creation of the event comes on the heels of the Big Ten’s new media rights deal with FOX, NBC, and CBS, ending a nearly four-decade relationship with ESPN. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge began in 1999, with the SEC/Big 12 Challenging beginning in 2013. Both events will cease to exist following this season.

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Sports TV News

FOX Sports Sees Record-Setting Ratings Weekend

The World Cup matchup between the U.S. and England on Black Friday and Michigan/Ohio State on Saturday saw tens of millions of viewers tuning in.

Jordan Bondurant

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FOX Sports has been home to a number of record-setting games in terms of viewership over the last several days.

In addition to FOX Sports setting a new mark for a Thanksgiving and regular season NFL audience, the World Cup matchup between the U.S. and England on Black Friday and Michigan/Ohio State on Saturday saw tens of millions of viewers tuning in.

The network reported the U.S./England match in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup averaged 15.377 million. It was the most-watched English-language soccer game in the U.S. ever, topping the 1994 World Cup final between Italy and Brazil.

Viewership of the match was up 11% compared to the second group stage contest for the U.S. team in 2014 against Portugal. The audience peaked at 19.646 million from 3:30-3:45 p.m.

FOX Sports also reported the Michigan/Ohio State game on Saturday drew in 17 million, which made it the most-watched regular season college game on the network ever. That figure was also the highest of any regular season contest since 2011. That game also saw the audience peak at 19.6 million.

Viewership for the game was up 3% compared to last year.

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Sports TV News

ESPN Bowl Plans Could Be Altered By NFL Flex Scheduling

“While this situation poses a challenge, we are accustomed to flexibility and having to maneuver our event schedules.”

Jordan Bondurant

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ESPN could be forced to adjust its upcoming bowl season schedule if the NFL decides to flex a Las Vegas Raiders game a week before Christmas.

ESPN announced its contingency plans for two bowl contests, the Las Vegas Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl. The Las Vegas Bowl is currently planned to kick off from Allegiant Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on December 17. The Raiders right now are still planning to play in the Sunday night game the next night against the Patriots.

Should the NFL decide to flex the Raiders out of the SNF window, ESPN will swap kickoff times between the Las Vegas Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl. That would mean the game in sin city will kick off at 11:30 a.m. local time, with the contest in Albuquerque starting at 5:20 p.m. local time that evening.

“The SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl and New Mexico Bowl are both owned and operated by ESPN Events, so this change is a solution that will work for all parties,” ESPN Events vice president Clint Overby said. “While this situation poses a challenge, we are accustomed to flexibility and having to maneuver our event schedules. We are more than prepared to move forward with this revised schedule if necessary.”

Kickoff times will be determined well enough ahead that the schools taking part in both games shouldn’t be adversely affected.

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