HBO Max nets live hockey through new NHL, Turner deal

NHL 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs 1
The new agreement brings the Stanley Cup Final and Stanley Cup Playoffs to TNT and TBS for the first time. (NHL)

Turner Sports and the National Hockey League have reached new seven-year rights agreement that spans WarnerMedia’s portfolio including HBO Max.

The main thrust of the deal, which kicks in for the 2021-22 season, brings the Stanley Cup Final and Stanley Cup Playoffs to TNT and TBS for the first time and provides Turner Sports with rights to up to 72 regular season games and the NHL Winter Classic each season.

“We’re delighted to spotlight the world’s best hockey league on our leading networks, while continuing to further elevate this marquee property through an ever-expanding array of digital platforms in the years to come," said Jeff Zucker, chairman of WarnerMedia News & Sports, in a statement.

However, the deal also includes extensive digital rights including a live streaming and simulcast agreement for NHL content on HBO Max, AT&T’s subscription streaming service that is launching a less-expensive, ad-supported version in June. The development is surprising given that WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, speaking last month during an AT&T investor day, said his company had no interest in securing live sports for HBO Max in 2021.

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“We don’t have plans this year in terms of live sports. We certainly are fortunate to have relationships with some of the most premium sports that exist in terms of live events. But we don’t have any plans this year with regards to HBO Max and live sports in the U.S. market,” said Kilar.

The HBO Max, NHL deal is the latest in a series of high-profile sports streaming moves from both media companies and sports leagues. Paramount+, Peacock and more have embraced live sports as a means of attracting more subscribers, and the NFL recently renewed its distribution agreements including streaming simulcast rights for its broadcast partners and an exclusive deal for Thursday Night Football on Amazon.

As part of the new agreement with NHL, Turner Sports will also get TV Everywhere rights that will allow its networks to make NHL games and related programming available to authenticated subscribers across all WarnerMedia platforms. The deal also includes digital and highlight rights for Bleacher Report, which will have the ability to create ancillary programming, events and digital experiences with the NHL.