nhl- Even more on ESPN & the NHL
NHL spokesman Frank Brown declined to comment. ESPN and the NHL can still negotiate until June 1, a deadline that was established by the sides in early April. Both sides declined to comment on whether they'll meet further.
The cable network had a $60 million contract to show NHL games this season, which was lost because of a labor dispute between owners and players. The NHL became the first professional U.S. sports league to wipe out an entire year because of labor trouble when Commissioner Gary Bettman canceled the season on Feb. 16.
A divorce from ESPN, the top-rated cable channel, would hurt the NHL, a league whose revenue from television is waning. The NHL received $600 million over five years under its previous contract with ESPN and Disney's ABC that expired after the 2003-04 season.
"It didn't make sense for ESPN to spend $60 million when there is still no labor agreement,'' former CBS Sports executive Jay Rosenstein said in a telephone interview. "There's too much uncertainty.''
League and union officials said this week progress was made toward a new agreement during two days of talks in Chicago. The sides have met for six days in the past two weeks, mentioning movement toward a new deal for the first time since the lockout began last September. The sides are expected to meet again next week in Toronto.
"I don't see any strong competitors to ESPN for the NHL package,'' Rosenstein said. "ESPN still has the leverage.''