This is an opinion piece.

Finally! Hockey is returning to ESPN!

Starting next season, the “worldwide leader in sports” will be hosting the National Hockey League. In a seven-year deal that was announced Wednesday, ESPN announced that their family of networks would be hosting “25 regular-season games on ESPN or ABC, early-round playoff series and one conference final each year, four Stanley Cup Final series on ABC and more than 1,000 games per season streaming on ESPN+.

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The ESPN article added that “ESPN+ and Hulu will be home to 75 ESPN-produced exclusive telecasts per season.”

Now I know what you’re thinking. "Why is anyone trying to tell me about hockey, especially in Alabama? The Crimson Tide just won a national championship in football, coach Nate Oats is leading a very talented Bama hoops team into 'March Madness,' and the softball team is fire right now."

Hear me out.

Hockey is what you have been missing. It’s fast, it’s intense, and the rivalries are electric.

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While this mega-deal will surely affect our neighbors to the north and prevent Canadians from the ease of viewing games in their market, this will dramatically increase the viewability for American hockey fans.

The last time ESPN held rights to the NHL was 2004. Now, 17 years later, the landscape of sports is completely different. While the aired games on ESPN and ABC will help the common fan view the sport, the real treasure of this deal lies in the multitude of games on ESPN+ and Hulu.

It is extremely common for NFL fans in Alabama to be limited in the teams they can follow due to television contracts. On most Sundays, fans can only really find Falcons, Saints, Titans, or Cowboys games.

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The same can be said for baseball fans around the southeast. MLB.TV’s blackouts of regional games make it difficult to follow your team.

With this deal, it will be possible to follow any team in the league. Alabama is, after all, a desert in hockey coverage. Shocking! I know!

While many southerners are slow to grasp on to new things, I urge you to try out hockey. As a southerner, I was hesitant to try out hockey, but when you see a dramatic shootout between two hated rivals – some rivalries in the NHL are arguably better than many in college football – you realize that you have been missing out on one of the most exciting sports.

To most, the NHL/ESPN deal will be just another piece of business news that will scroll across the bottom of the screen of the news, but I predict that this:

By the end of this massive TV deal, the NHL will be a bigger sport in the United States with a lot more fans. The huge amount of nationally broadcasted games will be better for the sport, and it will bring in a lot more publicity. Many of which, I hope, hail from the south.

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