The NHL took a small step toward solving its TV problem in Europe Thursday, with the emphasis on small.
The league announced it has reached an agreement with Modern Times Group, a television company based in Stockholm, to show all NHL regular-season and playoff games in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway. But hockey fans in continental Europe and Russia remain without access to games on television two weeks after the season started and they continue to express their outrage on the social networks.
While the multi-year agreement with MTG is good news for the large number of fans in Scandinavia, there is a catch. Most of the games will be shown on pay-TV channels operated by MTG and only “certain games” will be available on free channels, according to an NHL press release.
At this point, the only way for European fans outside of the Nordic countries to watch NHL games is on their computers if they subscribe to the league’s video-streaming service.
The problem started when the NHL, figuring it could make lots more money from European television, did not renew its deal with ESPN America when it expired after last season. The U.S. cable television giant was the only carrier for all European countries.
Instead, the NHL formed a partnership with two companies, Medge Consulting and Advisers Media International. Neither company owns television networks or stations but both were to act as third parties selling the NHL rights in Europe, Africa and the Middle East to a variety of television networks.
This meant the NHL went from a single outlet in those regions, ESPN, to different outlets in almost every country, which also meant negotiating multiple deals. Naturally, the process dragged on and now only the Nordic countries have the games on TV and other European and Russian fans are steaming.
The idea from the NHL’s side was to tailor each television package to each region. So if a few NHL teams had lots of Swedish players, more games from those teams would be shown in Sweden.
Also, ESPN often showed NHL games only on cable packages that cost more for the viewer. In addition to wanting more money for its rights, the NHL was also hoping carriers in some countries would put at least some games on cheaper or free channels.
But the complexity of doing multiple deals left the NHL without anything to offer its European fans once the season started. At this point, it’s not clear when those fans will get to legally watch hockey on anything other than their computers.