BOSTON — Hockey East announced today a new television agreement with New England Sports Network (NESN) beginning in January 2004. The deal, announced at the league’s annual media day, will move Hockey East coverage from rival Fox Sports Network to NESN, the home of Boston Bruins hockey.
It is the second stay for Hockey East with NESN. When the league was formed 20 years ago NESN, too, was in its early stages. The two held an agreement that began in 1984 and lasted for 13 years until Fox Sports took over at the beginning of the 1996-97 season.
A major point of contention for why Hockey East made the switch back to NESN has to do with the league’s championship coverage. Fox Sports New England is under contract with the Boston Celtics to bring all the club’s games — home and away — to the station live. In recent seasons that has meant pushing the Hockey East championship game to tape-delayed coverage.
“The biggest obstacle was to have the tournament not air live was just not fair to our fans,” said Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna, who noted emphatically that the relationship between the league and Fox Sports was and is solid.
Under the agreement, NESN will broadcast nine Hockey East regular season games beginning in January. Each of the nine schools will make at least one appearance on the broadcasts which will air in the same time slot every week — Fridays at 7 p.m. At least one quarterfinal game, both semifinals and the title game will also air live. In addition, for the first time, the Hockey East women’s championship game will also air live.
The agreement is built around a cost/revenue share agreement between NESN and the league. According to Bertagna, the structure is one that could prove profitable for Hockey East over time, but likely not this season.
NESN will be using the professional hockey venue to promote Hockey East games. The league will have exposure opportunities during Bruins games, something that Bertagna thinks is solid cross-marketing.
“NESN is going to provide some opportunities for [Hockey East] coaches to appear during Bruins broadcasts,” Bertagna said. “The exposure on the Bruins’ games will help us to reach people who like hockey but might not be too familiar with the college game.”
The agreement is part of a television package with the league that will place a total of 58 games on television this season. Comcast’s channel CN8, New Hampshire Public Television and College Sports Television will complement NESN’s Hockey East coverage throughout the season.