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Monday, February 26, 2024

NHL Regains Local Rights in Revised DSG Deal. Now Comes the Hard Part

  • The agreement with the bankrupt RSN operator follows a similar form as a prior NBA pact.
  • The NHL’s options for next steps are likely more limited given the state of its national deals.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The good news for the NHL is that it has reached a deal with Diamond Sports Group regarding the local media rights of 11 teams. That might be the bad news, as well.

After more than six weeks of anticipation, DSG court filings late Wednesday showed that the NHL reached an agreement with the bankrupt parent of the Bally Sports regional networks to regain the local rights of 11 teams. Those rights will revert back to the league after the 2023-24 season in return for contract “modifications” that remain under court seal, similar to terms the NBA reached last month with DSG. The agreement remains subject to court approval.

In the short term, the deal provides a crucial dose of certainty for the NHL and ensures that DSG will not drop any of its NHL teams in the abrupt fashion in which it rejected its rights to the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this week that maintaining fan access to the games was a key priority. 

“The term sheet provides the NHL through the 2023-24 season and allows them to transition operations, with the debtors’ cooperation, before the start of the 2024-25 season, thus minimizing potential disruption to fans,” DSG said in a court filing.

The NHL’s next steps with these local rights are unknown, and its future options are likely more limited compared to the NBA. That league will regain the local rights to half its teams while in the market for its next round of national rights, offering the possibility of an unprecedented combination of local and national agreements. Amazon in particular could be a player for a blended NBA deal given that it is reportedly considering an investment in DSG. 

The NHL, conversely, has locked in its national-level contracts with Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery through the 2027-28 season.

“It’s a resolution that we are comfortable with in light of the totality of circumstances,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said about the DSG deal to The Athletic.

Differing Circumstances

The NHL-DSG agreement involves the Anaheim Ducks, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, and Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Those teams are in varying situations. The Kings struck a long-term extension with DSG in September, and the company had intended that deal to be a cornerstone of a reorganization plan. The Panthers signed their own extension with Bally Sports in 2022. Several of the other teams were closer to the end of their current contracts with Bally Sports and had been dealing with fan unrest in recent weeks stemming from multiple outages on the Bally Sports+ streaming service. 

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