NHL approves new TV deal

Archived from 1998-99 season.

NHL teams

The NHL Board of Governors has approved Walt Disney Co's $600 million, five-year offer to televise hockey on its ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 networks starting in 1999.

Disney made the offer two weeks ago but the league waited for Fox to pass on its right to match 90% of the over-the-air portion of the deal.

An official announcement of the new contract is expected next week.

Fox is reportedly asking to be let out of its contract for the next season. Fox is projected to lose $20 million over the season, but the real reason might be that Fox doesn't want appear as lame duck.

Negotiations with Fox and the league are underway and one possibility is ABC buying Fox out of the contract.

The real winner is clearly the NHL, which will see its TV revenue more than double. The new deal calls for annual payments of $50 million by ABC and $70 million by ESPN. Combined, that's 2.6 times more than the average annual rights fees Fox and ESPN are paying under the current deal.

"This is good for the sport, great for ABC and ESPN," said Steve Bornstein, president of ESPN and ABC Sports. "It gives ABC young audience programming for the month of June" during the Stanley Cup final.

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