Cable Deals with Canceled NHL Season


National and regional cable sports networks are adjusting their programming schedules to fill the void created after the National Hockey League scrapped its 2004-05 regular season schedule due to a labor dispute.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman Wednesday afternoon announced the cancellation of the league’s regular season -- the first time a major U.S. professional league has ever put its entire season on ice -- after failing to reach a last-minute agreement with the league’s players over a financial salary cap.

FSN said its affiliated regional sports networks will offer collegiate-hockey-tournament coverage, as well as other collegiate-sports events, to replace NHL games lost on its 14 owned-and-affiliated regional sports networks with local NHL-team deals.

“We all share the disappointment of the league’s fans, and we hope [the league and players] will be able to solve their differences prior to the start of next season,” FSN president Bob Thompson said.

Comcast SportsNet will look to provide extended spring-training Major League Baseball coverage to make up for lost NHL games on its Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlantic (Baltimore/Washington, D.C.) regional sports networks, according to a company spokesman.

ESPN executives said the programmer will continue to air live college men’s-basketball games. as well as to “maximize” its number of MLB and National Basketball Association telecasts, to replace the remainder of its aborted 42-game regular-season NHL schedule on ESPN2 and its approximately 50- to 60-game playoff schedule on both ESPN and ESPN2.

In addition, ESPN will offer air new episodes of such ESPN Original Entertainment reality and game-show series as Dump the Schwab, I’d Do Anything and Teammates.

Meanwhile, ESPN executives would not say whether the network will exercise an option to extend its current one-year cable-television deal with the NHL, which expires this spring.

“We’re hoping that [the league] resolves its issues, and that we can come to an agreement with the NHL,” ESPN senior vice president of programming David Berson said. “We’re not looking to just get back the product that was there before, but we’re excited about growing the sport with the help of some possible rule changes and improvements to the television product.”

Meanwhile, MSO executives and direct-broadcast satellite provider DirecTV Inc. are making plans to provide rebates to consumers who preordered the $139 “NHL Center Ice” subscription out-of-market game package.