- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - The NHL is staying on NBC and Versus for the next 10 years with a deal Commissioner Gary Bettman calls the most significant in league history.

In a joint announcement Tuesday, the NHL and the NBC Sports Group said the new deal will run through the 2020-21 season. The package is reportedly worth a total of $2 billion.

NBC will remain the exclusive network home for the NHL, and Versus is retaining the major cable rights. The NHL had drawn interest from ESPN, Turner and FOX, but decided to stay where it has been for the past six years since the end of the season-long lockout.

“This is right across all factors, not the least of which is the tremendous relationship we have with NBC and Versus,” Bettman said. “When we looked at the entire package and the relationship, it was clear we were going to stay with the incumbent.

“But it’s nice to go out and find out you’re pretty.”

For the first time, all Stanley Cup playoff games will air on one of the NBC Sports Group’s channels. Beginning in the second round and running through the finals, those channels will hold exclusivity. NBC will show up to five games of the Stanley Cup finals, with Versus airing Games 3 and 4.

The NBC Sports Group will televise 100 regular-season games per season, and NBC will have a new telecast the day after Thanksgiving in the new contract.

This deal would easily exceed the $120 million contract the NHL had with ESPN from 1999-2004.

“Everybody has enormous respect for ESPN,” Bettman said. “Six years ago we decided to go in a different direction, for a variety of reasons, and it has worked well for us. This for us is a great place to be. Versus’ coverage of our game has been extraordinary. Hockey fans have found it and have been telling us on a regular basis that the coverage is terrific, and I think it’s going to get better.”

In the current contract, Versus pays the NHL about $75 million per year but NBC doesn’t pay at all because of a revenue-sharing agreement with the league.

That will now change.

“Our run of not paying anything for a number of years is over with this deal,” said Dick Ebersol, the chairman of the NBC Sports Group. “We are paying a substantial part, not the majority.”

Bettman didn’t seem concerned about how the payments would be split between NBC and Versus under the umbrella of Comcast Corp., which acquired the majority stake in NBC Universal in January.

“I never had any regrets with the deal we had with NBC,” Bettman said. “As far as we’re concerned it’s one contract. They can whack it up any way they want.”

The NBC Sports Group will obtain digital rights across all platforms for the games it televises. In the regular season, NBC will continue to show a national game of the week and the outdoor Winter Classic.

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