Disney touts NHL sponsorship demand on linear, ESPN+

Disney is touting National Hockey League advertising demand as the league concludes its first season back with Walt Disney, saying it exceeded initial expectations driven by linear and ESPN+.

In 2021 the NHL inked a seven-year deal for TV, streaming and media rights with Disney, allowing coverage options on ABC, ESPN during the agreement term, as well as 75 national regular season games streaming exclusively on ESPN+ and Hulu. In addition, it brought the NHL’s out-of-market streaming package with more than 1,000 games exclusively to ESPN+.  

It marked the first time since 2004 that NHL games returned to the Walt Disney Company.

“We are incredibly proud of the sponsorship success we’ve seen in the NHL’s first season back home on Disney,” said Jim Minnich, SVP of Disney Advertising Revenue Yield Management. “Brands flocked to our unique offerings resulting in strong NHL demand throughout the entire season.”

Highlighting the demand, Disney Advertising said it’s nearly sold out for the 2022 Stanley Cup final, which brought in 10 sponsors and 59 advertisers across 35 categories who will appear throughout the telecasts. Sponsors for the championship event include Apple, Crypto.com, Discover, Geico, Goodyear, Honda, Lexus, SAP, Subway and Verizon.

Disney said it sold sponsorships throughout the NHL season across all entry points including broadcast, cable, addressable, and direct-to-consumer, though didn’t break out specifics by category.

Viewership has been up significantly for the NHL this season, according to Disney. The Eastern Conference Final on ESPN attracted an average of 2.4 million viewers, up 82% compared to the 2021 Conference Final average across cable and broadcast. To date, the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs across ESPN and ESPN2 are averaging 1.2 million viewers, up 30% from last year to date on cable and broadcast.

Disney’s ESPN+ service ended the most recent quarter with 22.3 million subscribers, a more than 60% increase from the 13.8 million a year prior.

Companies across the TV and video landscape continue to compete for sports rights. Apple yesterday announced a 10-year deal with Major League Soccer to stream all live games through a subscription available on the Apple TV app. Disney most recently lost out on a bid for Indian Premiere League (IPL) cricket rights – which instead went to Viacom18 (a JV between Paramount Global and Reliance Industries) for $2.63 billion for a five-year package consisting of regional digital rights. Still, despite losing out on digital for IPL – which Disney held, along with TV, for the past five seasons – the company did succeed in keeping broadcast IPL rights, bidding $3.01 billion to do so.  

On the advertising front, the Disney+ streaming service intends to introduce an ad-supported option in the U.S. later this year, with an international rollout to follow in 2023. In a report this week, MoffettNathanson analysts estimate that Disney+ could generate $1.8 billion of advertising revenue in the U.S. by 2025, while Netflix’s ad-supported tier could bring in $1.2 billion by then.  

“While we are excited by the opportunity that advertising creates at those two streaming giants, the devil will be in the details of how each company prices these new offerings and how much of the available content impressions will be available and suitable for advertising,” wrote MoffettNathanson’s Michael Nathanson. “In general, we feel that the growth of these ad offerings will be mainly sourced by non-sports and news linear cable and broadcast network dollars.”