Betting on hockey this year may be a bit different than it has been in past years. After the 2004-2005 lockout, ESPN decided that it no longer wanted anything to do with the NHL and dropped all NHL programming. Not only are there not programs on ESPN that involve the NHL or its players, ESPN also refuses to talk about the NHL lockout on its flagship show “Sportscenter.” Fans tuning in to “Sportscenter” to find out more information about the NHL lockout are in for a disappointment as the network is not talking about, or covering, the NHL lockout in any way.
The sport betting community started to wonder what ESPN had against ice hockey, but it turns out that the grudge is most definitely against the NHL. Many of the NHL’s top Russian and European players have signed contracts to play in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League. Under normal circumstances, this would not affect the NHL’s standing in the United States. But ESPN has recently announced that it would start broadcasting KHL games to the tune of five or six games a month. Is the writing on the wall for the NHL?
This raises several problems for the NHL that the league may not be able to recover from. The NHL has experienced significant financial growth because it has been able to find ways, such as the Winter Classic, to market its product to the casual sports fan. But if the casual sports fan suddenly finds the fast pace of the KHL to be more appealing than the NHL, then ESPN may decide to expand its KHL broadcasts and give the NHL a seriously strong issue to contend with.
The online sports betting community is familiar with the reputation that the KHL has for a fast-paced game that is not slowed by the same clutching and grabbing that has plagued the NHL for decades. Casual fans seem to enjoy a fast-paced game with clean hitting and the occasional fight to keep things honest. The NHL has not been able to deliver that kind of a product since the 1970’s. Is it possible that the style of hockey played in the KHL could be more attractive to sports fans than the hockey played in the NHL?
There is one more thing that the sportsbook experts feel that the NHL will have to contend with. There is a large contingency of NHL players that are signed to play in the KHL because of the lockout. With the first two weeks of the regular season gone, that means that there won’t be NHL hockey until at least November. While the KHL is on ESPN3, it is still on an ESPN network with the potential to be moved up to ESPN2 or even the primary ESPN network. ESPN is owned by Disney which also owns the ABC broadcasting network.
If fans do start watching the KHL, then ESPN could increase the heat on the NHL by putting KHL games in prime time spots on more popular networks. If the lockout extends into December, or the entire season is lost, and the former NHL players find themselves back on prime time international television, then what would be the inspiration for the NHL players to come back to the NHL? The increase in revenues that the KHL would see would allow the league to pay its players more and that would be a very bad thing for the NHL.
Read more about the KHL and its ESPN agreement and how it could affect the NHL.