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Understanding the NHL Blackout Policy

Written by Derek Fleming

You’re an NHL hockey fan, and want to tune in to every game of your team’s season.

How can you plan for the possibility of blackouts?

If you’re an in-market fan

The first step is to determine whether you’re an in-market or an out-of-market fan. In-market NHL fans live close to their favorite team. For example, all of New England is considered in-market for Boston Bruins games. In that region, NESN is the regional sports network that has the TV rights to broadcast most Bruins games.

The out-of-market Bruins broadcasts on NHL Network and ESPN+ will be blacked out in New England to enforce NESN’s TV rights. So, the first rule of NHL blackouts is your local regional sports network (RSN) trumps the NHL’s out-of-market regular season broadcasts. This is the rule for most games, however, pay attention, because as with most rules, there are exceptions.

Although your local RSN has the rights to broadcast most regular season NHL games, they don’t have the rights to all of them. Under the NHL’s current TV deal with Disney and Turner Sports, ABC, ESPN, and TNT have the exclusive rights to air some regular season games, as well as the playoffs, and Stanley Cup Playoffs.

When your team plays in an exclusive ESPN NHL game, your local RSN will be blacked out. ESPN and Turner Sports paid the NHL hundreds of millions of dollars for the rights to these games, and they don’t want to share them with local RSNs.

So, the second rule of NHL blackouts is that exclusive national TV games trump local RSNs and the NHL’s out-of-market broadcasts.

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If you’re an out-of-market NHL fan

If you don’t live in the same city as your favorite team, the best bet for live streaming NHL games is ESPN+.

The old NHL.TV product has been folded into ESPN+, with ESPN+ now airing 75 exclusive games and 1000+ out of market NHL games throughout the season subject to local blackout rules.

You can’t watch the ESPN+ broadcast of your favorite NHL team from the city that team plays in. The local RSN TV rights will trump ESPN+.

One drawback with ESPN+ NHL streaming is the possibility of blackouts, even for out-of-market fans.

When a hockey game also appears on the NHL Network, which has the rights to 75 games per season, it will be blacked out on ESPN+.

This means that to access the games that are blacked out out-of-market, hard core fans will have to turn to another live TV streaming provider that carries NHL Network. The good news is that all blacked out games will be available on replay 24 hours after airing.

This leads to the third rule of NHL blackouts, which is that the NHL Network’s out-of-market games trump the ESPN+ out-of-market games, and result in blackouts on ESPN+.

Summarizing the NHL blackout rules

In-market, your local RSN trumps ESPN+ and NHL Network. The ESPN+ and NHL Network broadcasts are blacked out for local fans, unless ESPN+ has an exclusive. 1,000 ESPN+ games are non-exclusive out-of-market broadcasts, and 75 are exclusive games.

Out-of-market, the 75 non-exclusive NHL Network games trump ESPN+. When the NHL Network has a game, ESPN+ is blacked out.

For national games, ESPN has 25 exclusive games that trump your local RSN. When your team appears in one of these national games, local RSNs are blacked out.

The playoffs and Stanley Cup Playoffs air on ABC, ESPN, and TNT, and these TV rights trump local RSNs, which, you guessed it, causes blackouts.

Which live TV streaming services carry the important NHL channels?

In the easy to use table below, I list the live TV streaming services that carry ABC, ESPN, NHL Network, TNT, and TBS, the important channels for watching national NHL broadcasts.

DIRECTV STREAMFuboTV Sports LiteFuboHulu + Live TVSling Orange & BlueYouTube TV
ABC ABC
ESPN ESPN
NHL Network NHL Network
TBS TBS
TNT TNT

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