NHL inks TV deal with NBC

After a 29-year hiatus, the National Hockey League is returning to NBC.

The league announced a two-year, revenue-sharing agreement Wednesday with the American network. NBC also has a two-year option for 2006-07 and 2007-08 should it choose to exercise it.

Beginning in January 2005, NBC will televise seven regular-season games and six Stanley Cup playoff games in regular Saturday afternoon time slots. In addition, NBC will broadcast Games 3-7 of the Stanley Cup final.

Under the agreement, the league will not receive the kind of upfront fees that are common in most network television contracts. Instead, the NHL and NBC will share revenue, with the network covering its production and distribution costs.

"We're thrilled to be entering into a partnership with the NHL," Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, said in a statement.

"We're acquiring a major, established sport that is rich in tradition - and we're doing it in a way which fits our strong historical commitment to financially sound deals which offer significant upside for both parties."

"NBC is renowned for innovative programming and unique promotion of its sports properties," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "We're delighted to be in a partnership with NBC."

If next year's NHL season is cancelled because of labour issues, the deal would begin in 2005.

The current collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15 and unless a new agreement is negotiated, a lockout by the owners could completely wipe out next season.

The NHL's first U.S. broadcast network contract was with NBC in 1966 that saw the network air Stanley Cup playoff games. NBC's NHL heritage also includes the Peter Puck era from 1972-73 through 1974-75 and NHL all-star game telecasts from 1991-94.

The NHL's five-year, $600-million US deal with ABC/ESPN expires at the end of the playoffs. The league is still trying to negotiate a U.S. cable deal with ESPN.

with files from Canadian Press