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Comcast Extends U.S. NHL Rights; Deal Said Worth $2 Billion

Comcast Corp.’s NBC and Versus networks said they had retained U.S. broadcast rights for National Hockey League games in a 10-year contract that people familiar with the agreement said was worth $2 billion.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, joined by NBC Sports Group Chairman Dick Ebersol on a conference call with reporters, said the accord will expire after the 2020-21.

Bettman and Ebersol declined to disclose specifics of the rights fee. The $2 billion price tag was confirmed earlier today by two people who were granted anonymity because the deal hadn’t been officially announced.

“We are looking at the most significant media deal that this league has ever been able to participate in,” Bettman said.

NBC and Versus had the right to match any bid as part of their previous agreement with the NHL.

NHL television ratings in the U.S. have increased 84 percent over the last four years, and the league is in line to set a revenue record this season, topping $2.9 billion, the NHL said in a news release announcing today’s agreement.

The agreement calls for the networks to televise 100 regular-season games each season and air a national NBC broadcast on the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday in late November. It also includes national distribution of all NHL playoff games and exclusive coverage starting with the conference semifinal round.

Other Bidders

Time Warner Inc.’s Turner Sports said in a statement yesterday that it was pulling out of the NHL rights bidding.

Comcast, which owns Versus, in January completed the purchase of a majority stake in NBCUniversal from General Electric Co., which included the NBC network.

Comcast and NBC have aired NHL games as separate companies since the league returned from a work stoppage that led to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season. The original Comcast deal was for $207.5 million over three years, while NBC had a revenue-sharing agreement with the NHL and hasn’t paid a rights fee for hockey in six seasons.

ESPN, which previously had the U.S. cable rights for the NHL, declined to pick up its $60 million option for the 2005-06 season, saying at the time that the sport wasn’t worth half that price.

NBC ‘Minority’

“Our wonderful, for us, run of not paying anything for a number of years is over with this deal,” Ebersol said, adding that a “substantial” minority portion of the new fees come from the national NBC broadcasts.

Bettman said he didn’t have any regrets about the previous deals with NBC.

“They have been extraordinary partners, they stood by us through a difficult time and they are deserving of tremendous credit for the positioning that we find ourselves in today as a sport and media property,” Bettman said.

Versus will be renamed within 90 days to some way utilize the NBC name, Ebersol said.

“You are the final impetus,” Ebersol said, speaking to Bettman about the name change. “I hope that’s as meaningful to you, your teams, your players, that based on this incredible deal we are going to rename ourself.”

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