The hockey season is a only a week away, and the National Hockey League doesn't have a national television contract. But there doesn't seem to be any great concern about starting the season without national TV.
"This is not a good time for the sports TV market, so we have to look at the long run," a league official said yesterday. "We would like to put a deal in place before the season starts, but it is not something we feel we have to do."
NHL president John Ziegler is meeting with representatives of ESPN and SportsChannel America this week. SCA carried the entire package the past three years, but it was expected that the package would be split by the two cable entities this year before snags developed between the NHL and ESPN.
ESPN, which reaches 60 million homes, reportedly has expressed interest in a package of a limited number of regular-season games starting in January, plus the Stanley Cup finals. Its request not to be blacked out of home TV markets is a stumbling block in the negotiations.
In the three-year contract that ended last year, SCA, which reaches 15 million homes, paid $17 million per year. It was expected that ESPN and SCA would combine to pay $7 million for the rights this year. Should SCA gain sole rights, an insider said, it would pay approximately $5 million per year.
The league source said the NHL is investigating a long-range interest in interconnecting regional telecasts, delivering games from satellites on a pay-per-view basis to areas of the country that have not been reached by its cable hookup. It is also looking into setting up a system to program games itself.
Should SCA gain the rights, it would be in position to start carrying the league schedule immediately.