We are only a little over a week into the new NHL season, but so far ESPN’s return after 17 years appears to be going well. Their opening night Penguins-Lightning broadcast averaged 983,000 viewers, the league’s largest Opening Night audience ever on cable, (dating back to 1993).
In addition to strong viewership, advertising for the network’s slate of NHL games this season is almost sold out, including most of the playoffs and the Finals.
“We are very, very well sold,” said Rita Ferro, president of Disney advertising sales, who declined to comment on numbers. “We have a couple of positions left, mostly in the playoffs and Finals. There was a lot of demand for the NHL on ESPN — and across Hulu and ESPN+.”
According to Front Office Sports, Disney expects to sell more than $100 million in NHL-related sales this season.
A dozen official league partners have come aboard, including Apple, Honda, EA Sports, Verizon, Discover, GEICO, and Dunkin’ Donuts. Disney has also signed Expedia, Lexus, Fidelity, Procter & Gamble, Goodyear, Lexus, Subway and Taco Bell as presenting, in-game, and studio sponsors.
ABC/ESPN is paying $400 million annually to serve as the league’s lead TV partner — part of a seven-year, $2.8 billion deal — while Turner Sports is paying an annual $225 million for the “B” package.
It’s unknown how advertising sales are going for TNT, but they too set records with their broadcasts last week. According to Sports Media Watch, TNT’s first-ever NHL regular season game, Rangers-Capitals on Wednesday night, averaged 817,000 viewers — the largest audience on record for an NHL game on the second night of the season.
By Jon Sorensen