The KHL is coming to ESPN. According to the site KHL.ru, ESPN has reached an agreement with the KHL to bring Russian hockey games to audiences within the United States. The new deal will place KHL games on ESPN3, a channel available within the United States, its territories and Great Britain. The move is believed to make KHL games available to roughly 73 million homes.
The interest is there. The NHL has gone missing. Chalk this up as a wise move by ESPN.
Interest in the KHL has never been higher. As more and more NHL players flock overseas, NHL fans are left scrambling to find ways to follow their favorite players. Twitter is typically the best source as finding online streams of KHL games can prove tiresome and frustrating. It might even prove impossible depending on your Internet connection.
It's no secret ESPN wanted to get back to covering hockey. When the NHL's rights were on the bidding table, ESPN made a big push but were outbid by NBC/NBC Sports. This left ESPN on the sidelines for the game of hockey, creating a big hole in their claim that they are the lone hub for sports coverage.
Now, with the help of the NHL lockout, ESPN is getting back into the game of hockey. Their coverage begins immediately, with the first game being the clash between Dynamo Moscow and Ak Bars on October 3rd. They will cover five games in the first 10 days of October.
Smart move, ESPN. You gain some easy positive PR in the hockey world by giving NHL fans an easy way to follow their stars abroad. You also tap into the hockey market, allowing you to once again back up your claim as being the leader in sports coverage. Finally, you really put the screws to NBC, a network that will be out millions of dollars if the lockout endures.
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It's significantly better than zero, for people who couldn't muddle through to finding the KHL's available streams. Also, of course, hooray for time zones - normal evening starts in Russia are morning hockey for those of us at the other end of the date line stripe. I wonder if ESPN will opt for time-delays, or just stream live and then keep it available for some period of time. The latter would certainly make sense, this being the internet age and all, but we just saw NBC fail in that regard extensively during the Olympics.
I'll admit, I watched some KHL last year, mostly as a novelty of, "Hey, it's the middle of the day, and I can watch hockey!" It certainly isn't the NHL - those who favor the late 80s/early 90s offensive style compared to today's defense-first game will find plenty to love. There's more time and space, as the commentators say. It's a fun product. I suppose, much like following overseas football (soccer, to us yankee hooligans), part of the trick will be picking a team to root for.
The KHL's site does have a convenient ENG button, for those of us who don't read cyrillic. The current standings can be found here: http://en.khl.ru/standings/