Executive Voice

The NHL Returns to The Walt Disney Company & ESPN

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ilan Ben-Hanan was named senior vice president, programming and acquisitions in 2020. Ben-Hanan sets the strategic direction for each of ESPN’s College Networks, overseeing the ACC Network, Longhorn Network, SEC Network, and now adds the NHL and ice hockey to his responsibilities. In this Executive Voice post, he shares his thoughts on the return of the NHL to The Walt Disney Company and ESPN, which makes its debut on Oct.12 with a season-opening doubleheader matchup on ESPN.

The NHL Returns to The Walt Disney Company & ESPN

We are thrilled to be partnering with the NHL and bringing hockey back to The Walt Disney Company.  We look forward to giving fans unprecedented access to an incredible lineup of NHL games and programming across all of our networks and platforms, and we’re equally excited about the value it represents to not only TWDC, but also the league and sports fans around the world.


This deal puts us in a great position to advance our company priorities of audience expansion, innovation, quality storytelling, and direct-to-consumer content distribution. It’s a very exciting time at the company and a credit to so many passionate and talented colleagues – both in front of and behind the camera – who are working tirelessly towards the successful launch and season-opening doubleheader on Oct. 12.

The Significance of ESPN+ and Hulu to our 7-Year NHL Partnership

This marks the first time one of the four major North American leagues is making 75 of its national games available exclusively on direct-to-consumer platforms – via ESPN+ and Hulu. Steaming really is at the core of this partnership, and is what we anticipate to be a paradigm-shifting deal in how we acquire rights. No other company has been able to deliver a deal like this, because nobody else has the platforms and capabilities that The Walt Disney Company and ESPN do.   


With 75 exclusive, ESPN-produced regular-season games on ESPN+ and Hulu, in addition to more than 1,000 out-of-market games on ESPN+ throughout the season, it really exemplifies our company’s unique strengths while serving as a model for rights deals in the future.  It also reinforces the value we can provide to the NHL – world-class production, quality storytelling, marketing and promotion, and our tremendous cross-platform capabilities and reach. In addition to strengthening the company’s commitment and growth towards direct-to-consumer and streaming, this deal also importantly brings live regular season, playoff and Stanley Cup Final hockey to our wide-reaching ABC and ESPN networks.


It is also important to note the tremendous value that comes with this partnership, as ESPN+ essentially replaces the out-of-market game offerings of NHL.tv in the United States.  Anybody with an ESPN+ subscription will be able to watch more than 1,000 live out-of-market games for $6.99/month or $69.99/year, when that package on NHL.tv previously cost hockey fans $24.99/month or $144.99/year. All NHL games, including those produced by TNT, NHL Network and RSN-produced games will be available for archival viewing on ESPN+ 24 hours after scheduled end times. 


Simply put, ESPN+ is instantly a must-have for hockey fans – like it already is for UFC fans, global soccer fans, and so many more.


There’s no doubt that hockey fans will have more options than ever to watch this upcoming NHL season. Now that we’ve announced our  exclusive 103-game NHL schedule, it is a top priority to ensure viewers understand how to watch the NHL on ESPN, ESPN+, Hulu and ABC, and that we drive awareness and education of what games will be featured on TWDC platforms. 


In preparation to help fans understand where to find the games they want, nearly every team across the company has been working together to help the cause from their respective areas.  Whether it be Marketing and PR with their game navigation video and announcement or a Custom Bottom Line within game windows and studio shows – so many talented teams are collaborating to create the best possible experience for hockey fans as we embark upon this new and exciting era of the NHL back at The Walt Disney Company.

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