These are heady times for National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, who spent a chunk of his formative years in Forest Hills and graduated from Russell Sage Junior High School.
It wasn’t long ago that the NHL was not a very desirable commodity for television sports executives and its broadcast rights were priced far below those of Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association. NBC has had exclusive rights for NHL telecasts for 15 years, for which it forks over about $200 million annually.
Bettman, while appreciative of NBC’s work, must have been stewing for years at how his sport was undervalued as the television and streaming landscape has changed dramatically since 2005 when he signed the deal. In April he announced a deal with ESPN to more than double the fees NBC was paying. There was some controversy with the ESPN pact as it allowed Disney, ESPN’s parent corporation, to place select games for exclusive viewing on its streaming services, which come at an additional cost for consumers. It should be said both Hulu and Disney Plus offer lots of entertainment content.
Last week, Bettman announced the NHL had found a second TV partner in Turner Sports, which will pay around $200 million annually to televise NHL games. In short, the NHL is following the NBA’s television blueprint as it has the same two TV partners.
The NHL’s new deals will have ramifications in the cable TV world. Bettman admitted he’s not sure what will become of the NHL Network. In addition, Comcast, the parent corporation of NBC, announced this year it will fold the NBC Sports Network on Dec. 31.
Turner Sports has quietly become a major player in sports programming. It has secondary deals with MLB and the NBA, and is a partner with CBS in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. It now adds hockey to its portfolio.
Major League Soccer commissioner and Bayside High School alum Don Garber must be concerned that ESPN’s NHL deal will come at his sport’s expense. MLS has worked hard at elevating its profile over the last 20 years with its ESPN deal. For a while it seemed MLS would have a chance to surpass the NHL as America’s fourth sport. That now appears unlikely.
ESPN announced last week it will show a four-part documentary this October to mark the 35th anniversary of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets. It will be titled “Once Upon AaTime in Queens.” Late night funnyman and diehard Mets fan Jimmy Kimmel will serve as executive producer. ESPN promises to show never-seen-before footage and interviews.
See the extended version of Sports Beat every week at qchron.com.
You have to give Fox Sports credit for finding a way to have an NFL draft show even though Fox did not possess the TV rights to it. Taking advantage of the digital world, FOX Sports had a four-hour NFL draft show hosted by ESPN castoff Trey Wingo on its foxsports.com website.
Wingo was let go in an economic move by the Worldwide Leader in Sports in November 2020. You must wonder what the folks in Bristol, Conn., were thinking because Wingo reminded us why he was one of ESPN’s signature air personalities for over 20 years. He conducted in-depth interviews with retired NFL stars such as ex-Giants QB Eli Manning and Packers wide receiver great Greg Jennings, but what really made “NFL Draft Party” work was how he, and former players T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Geoff Schwartz and Jordan Palmer, were able to schmooze spontaneously about whether NFL teams were making sagacious selections as they were occurring in real time.
I’d like to see Fox Sports expand this concept this summer with an “NBA Draft Party.” It will be interesting to see whether the NBA would try to stop it with the NFL. Fox has game broadcasting rights, but it doesn’t televise pro hoops.
Speaking of the NBA, its commissioner, Adam Silver, is on the cover of the current issue of Time magazine. Silver admitted he didn’t do a good job selling the 2021 All-Star Game to his players, who understandably did not see the point of playing an exhibition game in the middle of their season with Covid-19 still having not been conquered. He also ducked the question of why NBA players, who are very socially aware, have turned a blind eye to China’s human rights violations. Some players, such as LeBron James, were livid when former Houston Rockets and now Philadelphia 76ers general manager Daryl Morey criticized China’s bullying of Hong Kong last year.
Also on the topic of magazines, the Sports Illustrated cover jinx is alive and well after all these years. SI put new Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor on the front of its April baseball preview issue. As Mets fans are all too aware, Lindor batted below .200 in April and has been hearing boos from the Flushing faithful.
The Jets’ top pick in last week’s NFL Draft, QB Zach Wilson, is the nephew of JetBlue founder David Neeleman. JetBlue makes its headquarters in Long Island City.
In case you were wondering, the Mets have not yet reached the magic 85 percent mark for player vaccinations. When that percentage is reached, MLB loosens its restrictions for teams wearing masks in the dugout as well as allowing players to dine out in restaurants on the road. If there is anything more disgraceful than their inability to hit with runners in scoring position, it is the Mets’ failure to do their part to help us defeat this evil virus and get our lives back.
Life and style
In contrast, here is some hopeful tourism Covid-19 news. Hong Kong and Singapore will waive the 14-day quarantine period for travelers who have followed all the protocols of what they call an “air travel bubble.” Apparently, having taken the vaccines is not a requirement but testing negative for the coronavirus before boarding and after landing is mandatory.
“The Flintstones” was a beloved baby boomer cartoon and it was the first animated series to run in primetime as ABC aired it from 1960-1966. The late Jackie Gleason was not a fan, however, because he felt it ripped off the characters and plots of “The Honeymooners.”
Elizabeth Banks, who is a terrific actress who seems to have put her acting career on the backburner to work on the business side of the entertainment industry, is producing a revival of the animated series for Fox which will debut sometime in the 2021-22 season. It would be perfect symmetry if “The Flintstones” were to air right after television’s longest-running primetime animated series, “The Simpsons.”
FOX’s free streaming service, Tubi, is now showing the 166 episodes of the classic “Flintstones.” In addition, you can watch every episode of “The Nanny,” which starred that fancy girl from Flushing, Fran Drescher. Taking a page out of NBC’s free streaming service, Peacock, Fox is planning on adding original programming, including animated series, for Tubi come the fall.