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NHL on ABC

The NHL on ABC is the branding formerly used for broadcasts of National Hockey League (NHL) games televised on ABC.

ABC first broadcast NHL games on March 28, 1993 during the 1992–93 season under a time-buy agreement with ESPN, lasting until May 1, 1994.

The network resumed regular season game telecasts on February 6, 2000, as part of a joint contract with ESPN that also gave ABC the rights to select games from each round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, lasting until June 7, 2004.

Background

After being dropped by NBC after the 1974–75 season, the NHL did not maintain a national television contract in the United States. In response to this, the league put together a network of independent stations covering approximately 55% of the country.

NHL games typically aired on Monday nights[10] (beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time) or Saturday afternoons. The package was offered to local stations without a rights fee.

The profits would instead be derived from the advertising (which was about evenly split between the network and the local station). The Monday night games were often billed as "The NHL Game of the Week."

Initially, the Monday night package was marketed to ABC affiliates; the idea being that ABC carried NFL football games on Monday nights in the fall and (starting in May 1976) Major League Baseball games on Monday nights in the spring and summer, stations would want the hockey telecasts to create a year-round Monday night sports block; however, very few ABC stations chose to pick up the package.

In 1979, ABC was contracted to televise Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Since the Finals ended in five games, the contract was void.

It was also around this time that ABC offered the NHL a limited deal that NHL president John Ziegler quickly rejected.

ABC wanted to split the network and show the NHL in the Northeast and Midwest and NASCAR in the South on Sunday afternoons.

Time-buy deal with ESPN (1992–1994)

In the 1992–93 and 1993–94 seasons, ABC televised six weekly regional telecasts on Sunday afternoons beginning in March (or the last three Sundays of the regular season), making it the first time that regular season NHL games were broadcast on American network television since 1974–75 (when NBC was the NHL's American broadcast television partner).

ABC would then televise three weeks worth of playoff games (or the first three Sundaysof the playoffs.

ABC did not televise the Stanley Cup Finals; instead, they were televised nationally by ESPN and by Prime Ticket in Los Angeles (1993) and the MSG Network in New York (1994). The games televised on ABC were not subject to blackout.

These broadcasts (just as was the case with the 1999–2004 package) were essentially, time-buys by ESPN; in other words, ABC would sell three-hour blocks of airtime to ESPN (which in return) would produce, supply broadcasters and sell advertising.

Also as evidence by ABC's Raycom produced college basketball package around the same time period, this arrangement could also be interpreted as a way to avoid union contracts, which require that 100% of network shows had to use crew staff who were network union members.

The main difference is that the graphics used for the telecasts were those used by ABC Sports, instead of the ones seen on "ESPN National Hockey Night".

In later years, the roles would be reversed as ESPN's graphical style would be used on the broadcasts with the exception of intermission reports.

ABC even used ESPN's theme music for the 1992–1994 coverage. During ABC's next stint with the NHL, the network used its own theme music. Overall, it averaged a 1.7 rating for those two seasons.

When the NHL television contract went up for negotiation in early 1994, Fox (which was in the process of launching its sports division after acquiring the rights to the National Football Conference of the NFL) and CBS (which was hoping to land a major sports contract to replace the NFL rights that they lost to Fox & Major League Baseball rights that they had lost to ABC and NBC) competed heavily for the package.

On September 9, 1994, the NHL reached a five-year, US$155 million contract with Fox for the broadcast television rights to the league's games, beginning with the 1994–95 season, effectively ending ABC's time-buy deal with ESPN after just two seasons.

The NHL returns to ABC (1999–2004)

In August of 1998, ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 signed a five-year television deal with the NHL, worth a total of approximately US$600 million (or $120 million per year).

The $120 million per year that ABC and ESPN paid for rights dwarfed the $5.5 million that the NHL received from American national broadcasts in the 1991–92 season.

Stanley Cup Playoffs (2000-2004)

ABC also televised the NHL All-Star Game and Games 3–7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in prime time.

In the league's previous broadcast television deal with Fox, the network split coverage of the Stanley Cup Finals with ESPN.

Games 1, 5 and 7 were usually scheduled to be televised by Fox; Games 2, 3, 4 and 6 by ESPN. However, from 1995 to 1998, the Finals were all four-game sweeps; 1999 ended in six games.

The consequence was that (except for 1995, when Fox did televise Game 4), the decisive game was never aired on network television.

2003 was the only year that ABC broadcast both the NBA and the Stanley Cup Finals that involved teams from one city in the same year, as both the New Jersey Nets and the New Jersey Devils were in their respective league's finals.

During ABC's broadcast of Game 3 between the San Antonio Spurs and the Nets in New Jersey on June 8, 2003.

Brad Nessler, Tom Tolbert & Bill Walton said that ABC was in a unique situation getting ready for both that game and Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Devils & the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim the following night (also at Continental Airlines Arena).

Gary Thorne, Bill Clement and John Davidson mentioned this the following night, and thanked Nessler, Tolbert and Walton for promoting ABC's broadcast of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Following the 2003–04 season, ESPN was only willing to renew its contract for two additional years at $60 million per year.

ABC refused to televise the Stanley Cup Finals in prime time, suggesting that the Finals games it would telecast be played on weekend afternoons (including a potential Game 7).

Disney executives later conceded that they had overpaid for the 1999–2004 deal, so the company's offer to renew the television rights was lower in 2004.

On-Air Staff

Studio hosts

  • John Saunders (1993–1994 and 1999–2004)
  • John Davidson, analyst (1999–2002)
  • Barry Melrose, analyst (2002–2004)

Stanley Cup Finals hosts

  • Chris Berman (2003-2004)
  • Al Michaels (2000–2002)

Broadcast teams

  • Gary Thorne-Bill Clement-John Davidson
  • Mike Emrick-Barry Melrose
  • Steve Levy-Darren Pang
  • Al Michaels-Jim Schoenfeld
  • Dave Strader-Brian Engblom

Reporters

  • Brenda Brenon (1993–1994)
  • Mark Jones (1993–1994)
  • Tom Mees (1993–1994)
  • Al Morganti (1993–1994)
  • Bob Neumeier (1993–1994)
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