NBC and NHL agree to 10-year TV rights deal

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The National Hockey League agreed to a 10-year U.S. broadcast rights agreement with NBC on Tuesday in a deal that Commissioner Gary Bettman hailed as the most significant in league history.

The deal, worth a reported $2 billion, will see the NHL become a bigger player on the American sporting stage with 100 regular season games televised each year and the introduction of a nationally televised game the day after Thanksgiving.

Running through the 2020-21 NHL season, the deal will see NBC remain the exclusive network home for the league while Versus retains the exclusive cable rights.

"As we have been building the sport over the last six years, we could not have had better partners than NBC and Versus," Bettman told reporters in a conference call.

"It has brought us to the point today where we're looking at the most significant media deal that this league has ever been able to participate in and it's an extraordinarily exciting time for us."

While the $200 million the NHL will pull in annually is a big jump up from the roughly $77 million it earned in its last deal, it pales in comparison to the billions in TV revenue the NFL and Major League Baseball command each season and the nearly $1 billion the NBA receives.

But the deal is certain to increase hockey's footprint in the United States.

The deal between the NHL and the NBC Sports Group includes targeted promotion across the combined Comcast/NBCUniversal company which, since the merger, consists of 20 television networks and more than 40 digital platforms.

Since the 2004-05 lockout that wiped out an entire season, the NHL has seen its ratings and revenues steadily grow.

In the four years, TV ratings in the United States have increased by a whopping 84 percent, according to the NHL, while the Winter Classic outdoor game has quickly established itself as a New Year's Day tradition.

This year's Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals was the most-watched regular season hockey game in the U.S. in 36 years.

(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)