Hockey East is officially moving to ESPN, one of the biggest scenes in the world of sports broadcasting. From next season, both the men’s and women’s leagues will join the NHL on the “Home of Hockey” brand, increasing exposure to both the college sport and its players.
The two groups on Wednesday unveiled a six-year media rights deal that will change the way people view college hockey and expand the product to a market of NHL fans.
After ESPN signed a seven-year streaming contract with the NHL in March 2021, the network has tried to establish itself as the best place for hockey fanatics. Dragging one of the best conferences in college hockey to its platform will only strengthen their plan.
According to a statement from the league, games will primarily be streamed on ESPN + with three matches during the year also broadcast on ESPNU.
The deal has several implications for Hockey East – many encouraging, but some bittersweet. Starting with the positive, this deal will be huge to increase collegiate viewership and highlight hockey’s young talent before players enter the NHL’s clear light.
The average NHL fan is not very aware of their team’s recruits or draft picks when the regular season is underway. It’s only when the college guys are brought up for the AHL or take their solo rookie round that their names start to be recognized.
Now that fans are flapping down on their couch with a shirt on to watch their team proudly and some potato chips in a bowl nearby, they were able to capture the final ten minutes of a Battle of Comm. Ave. or see the end of another exciting matchup. This exposure would automatically draw them more into a different league than the NHL.
College hockey lacks the following and craze that sports like basketball have at the lower level. March Madness dominated the sports world last month, but when I mentioned the Frozen Four, which is being held in Boston this year, to a friend, it was the first they heard about an NCAA tournament for hockey.
In my opinion, some of the college games played this postseason have been far more entertaining than any Devils vs. Coyotes-like matchups with the pros. The heart and gravel that these young athletes play with reminds viewers of the greatness of the game and makes you fall in love with the sport again.
The exposure will also be crucial to the women’s hockey world. I could write a completely separate article about the discrepancies in coverage, funding and appreciation for the women’s teams, but I’ll keep that for another week.
This is a step in the right direction to push the conversation around women’s hockey in front and exhibit the dynamic skill seen in each and every one of their games.
Although there are professional women’s leagues, they are not near the NHL in terms of prominent space, so college tends to be the time to shine for most of these players. Receiving coverage from the same network as the NHL will begin to provide credit where required for these female athletes.
With all these gains, there will also be the inevitable loss of local coverage and the beloved hometown anouncers. One of the best parts of a Hockey East game is watching the teams fight, while the TV stations’ heavy Massachusetts accents show statistics, facts and anecdotes about the teams they have covered for decades.
NESN will still cover games that will be streamed on ESPN +, but the plan for local team advertisers as a whole is a bit unclear. They are a core part of the collegiate sport and it would be a shame to completely lose that aspect of the game.
All in all, though, I’m excited that more people are leaning into the excitement of college hockey and appreciating the NHL’s next stars by their origins.