Both the NHL and Versus have options to opt out of their current rights deal, Multichannel News is reporting. Versus has already exercised an option to extend their deal through the upcoming 2007-08 season. They still have an option to extend the deal three additional years.
The NHL can also opt out of the deal at the end of this season if Versus does not meet certain subscriber benchmarks. It is not known exactly what these benchmarks are. However, Versus has increased its subscribers from 63 million in 2005, when it carried the NHL for the first time, to its current 72 million-subscriber mark.
If either party opts out of the contract, or if NBC decides not to renew after the 07-08 season, that would open the door for the NHL to return to ESPN. NBC says it is making money on their NHL contract, but the NHL has approached ESPN about securing NBC’s package. Another possibility is Versus renegotiating their deal and allowing some games to move to ESPN. The attractiveness of a renegotiation for Versus would be a lower rights fee, and cross-promotional exposure on ESPN.
from Thomas Umstead of Multichannel News
Versus can ice its National Hockey League deal after the upcoming season, a move that could allow ESPN to skate back into the pucks sport.
The Comcast-owned service has the right to end its NHL deal after the 2007-08 campaign, according to league deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who also said the hockey circuit can pull out of the deal based on whether Versus reaches certain distribution thresholds.