Sure, NHL ratings are dismal, but that's more an aberration than a trend. Hockey remains a strong lure for 18-to 34-year-old men, a group advertisers drool over, and ratings were undercut by a lack of good big-market teams. Disney could cross-promote on ABC and ESPN, and also pump up its franchise: Anaheim Ducks Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne will emerge as the NHL's most televisible stars if Disney lands this five-year deal.—K.K.
What better time to almost triple the current TV contracts than right after another ratings drop, shortly before the retirement of lone NHL icon Wayne Gretzky and in the face of a three-year expansion wave that will introduce four more tedious, trapping teams? Even the viewership among those 18-to 34-year-old guys has dropped 41% in the last three years. Disney, thirsting for live programming, will obviously settle for comatose.—H.H.