NHL Season on Ice (For Now)

NHL Season on Ice (For Now)
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Last year, National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern likened the potential loss of pro basketball season to nuclear winter. Now, a former NBA executive, National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman, is staring at icing a second full season of the puck sport.

Last Thursday, the NHL scrapped games through Jan. 14, bringing the total cancellations to 625, or 50.8% of what was to be the 2012-13 season, as well as the Jan. 1 Winter Classic and All-Star Weekend. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly last week put the seasonal point of no return as sometime in mid-January.

The parties — which remain at loggerheads over how to divvy up revenues in the $3.3 billion industry, the length of the collective bargaining agreement and free-agency terms, among other items — have not met face-to-face since Dec. 13, when negotiations, spurred by mediators, failed to net any progress.

At this stage, optimists hope the impasse harkens back to the labor prologue of 1995, when the season resumed that Jan. 20, with the first of what amounted to a truncated 48-game slate. Of course, in another piece of history, the 2005 season was lost in its entirety to the labor dispute, its official end declared that Feb. 16.

That opened the door for Comcast, through OLN (now NBC Sports Network) to take over as the league’s national TV rights-holder. This was supposed to be the second season of a national 10-year, $2 billion deal with NBC Sports Group, four of whose regional networks also carry the NHL.

With CNBC and the NHL Network teaming with NBC and NBC Sports Network, all of the league’s playoff games aired nationally for the first time in 2012, averaging 1.09 million viewers, the most in 15 seasons. NHL fare garnered ad sales of just under $150 million on NBC and NBCSN in 2011-12, according to Kantar Media.

As substitute fare, NBC Sports Group said it has “a large amount of quality live-event programming, including soccer, boxing, college hockey and college basketball, that will air in place of NHL games.” NBC Sports Network has also encored the 2012 Summer Olympics. At this stage, NBC has lost only the Black Friday game.

Fox Sports Net has a dozen RSNs that typically carry NHL action.

“Live, local sports is the cornerstone of what we do. … You can’t replace it,” Jeff Krolik, executive vice president for Fox Sports Networks, said in a statement. “We’re still hoping they can salvage the season. It would be in every one’s best interest — especially the fans.”

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