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Hockey Sportsnet, ESPN secure broadcast rights to World Cup of Hockey

Team Canada, led by executive director Wayne Gretzky, captain Mario Lemieux and goalie Martin Brodeur, won the last World Cup of Hockeyplayed in 2004

Reuters

Sportsnet and TVA are staying with the NHL to broadcast the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Canada, and ESPN is getting back together with the league to do so in the United States.

The NHL and NHL Players' Association on Wednesday announced that league partners Sportsnet and TVA were awarded Canadian media rights to the upcoming tournament, again beating out TSN and RDS. In the U.S., where the NHL has an ongoing deal with NBC Sports, ESPN won out to show the World Cup, its first foray back into professional hockey since 2004.

Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet and NHL properties for Rogers, called the World Cup of Hockey "the most exciting sporting event in Canada in 2016."

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"Anybody of my age in Canada can remember watching the great hockey tournaments of 1972, 1987 with Gretzky and Lemieux," said Moore, who produced the 1991 Canada Cup. "There is nothing quite like seeing best players in the world playing for their countries in a best-on-best tournament."

The 2016 World Cup of Hockey, a joint venture of the NHL and NHLPA, will take place Sept. 17 to Oct. 16 at Toronto's Air Canada Centre and feature Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Team Europe and North American Young Stars. The event is expected to generate more than $100 million in revenue, which will be split 50/50 between the league and players.

Because the World Cup is a separate event from the regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs, it's separate from current television-rights and other advertising deals. Therefore Rogers and NBC Sports weren't locks to broadcast the games, just as Reebok isn't guaranteed to produce the jerseys.

Rogers is in the first season of a $5.2-billion, 12-year Canadian TV rights agreement. There was some thought Bell and TSN would push for the event, and Bell made a bid before Rogers was awarded the rights.

"Both parties were interested," commissioner Gary Bettman said on a conference call. "I would describe the negotiations as competitive. But on balance as we sorted it out, we thought the right answer for us in Canada was to be with Rogers."

Bettman said though Rogers is the current NHL rightsholder it did not get the right to match other bids. A TSN representative was not immediately available for comment.

"I was really gratified and pleased that we had the level of interest from both competitors that was there, but you can only have one," NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said.

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That was also the case in the United States, where NBC Sports is in the middle of a US$2-billion, 10-year contract with the NHL. The network said in a statement it was interested in carrying the tournament but "this event proved challenging due to programming commitments."

Bettman said the NHL maintains a "terrific" relationship with NBC Sports but that scheduling conflicts led ESPN to win the World Cup rights. The commissioner added that there were no hard feelings toward ESPN since the NHL left after the 2004-05 lockout.

ESPN president John Skipper said the network is "thrilled to be back with the NHL in the United States," and that "the place is electric with excitement about getting back into hockey."

Unlike in Canada, where hockey often dominates sports telecasts, ESPN's flagship program, SportsCenter, has featured less and less of the sport over the past several years. Bettman said tongue-in-cheek he hadn't noticed that difference but hopes the World Cup will change that dynamic.

"We kind of view this as an opportunity to rekindle the SportsCenter interest," Bettman said. "To the extent that the people at SportsCenter are more focused on hockey in September, maybe that will continue on throughout the regular season."

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