UPDATE, 10:45 AM: The 10-year contract will take the partnership through the 2020-21 season and calls for 100 regular-season games a year, including for the first time a national broadcast on Thanksgiving Friday. The press release is below.

PREVIOUS, 9:29 AM: There’s a conference call scheduled for later today in which NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NBC Sports Group chairman Dick Ebersol are expected to announce that NBC and Versus have retained broadcast rights to NHL hockey. Bloomberg reports that the package is for 10 years and worth $2 billion. The two networks could match any bid because they own the current rights. Among the bidders was ESPN and Turner Sports, the latter of which pulled out of the race Monday.

NEW YORK (April 19, 2011) — The National Hockey League and the NBC Sports Group have reached agreement on a landmark 10-year television and media rights deal, taking the partnership through the 2020-21 season. The expanded partnership, under which NBC remains the exclusive network home and VERSUS the exclusive cable home of the NHL® in the U.S., is highlighted by the first-ever national distribution of all Stanley Cup® Playoffs contests, including, for the first time, exclusive coverage starting with the Conference Semifinals. The agreement also calls for the NBC Sports Group to televise 100 regular season games per year and introduces a national NBC broadcast on Thanksgiving Friday. The announcement was made today by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Sports Group.

According to the agreement, the NBC Sports Group obtains digital rights across all platforms and devices for the games it televises. In the regular season, NBC will continue to broadcast a national “Game of the Week,” along with its coverage of the NHL Winter Classic® and “Hockey Day in America.” VERSUS also will telecast an exclusive national “Game of the Week,” as well as NHL Premiere™ Games, NHL Faceoff™, the NHL All-Star Game and any future NHL Heritage Classic™ outdoor games in Canada. NBC and VERSUS remain the exclusive home of the Stanley Cup Final. The NBC Sports Group’s commitment includes building a new studio for NHL Network™ at its existing facility Stamford, Conn. “This is the most significant U.S. media rights partnership in the League’s history,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “NBC Universal / Comcast is one of the most important, connected and ‘wired’ media companies in the U.S., and as the potential of the NBC Sports Group is realized, the importance of our relationship will become more apparent to hockey fans and our business partners.

“NBC Sports and Comcast have been fantastic partners. They have provided incredible coverage of our sport and have teamed with us to deliver the best TV viewership figures in three decades. It is a credit to our players, our great game and our outstanding fans that Brian Roberts, Steve Burke, Dick Ebersol and their teams would make a commitment of this scale. We also know the best is yet to come.”

“We have significantly increased the value of the NBC Sports Group with this unprecedented, 10-year agreement with the National Hockey League,” said Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Sports Group. “What’s particularly exciting for us is not only the significant increase in regular season games, but the reality of a dream that every single playoff game will air on an NBC Sports Group platform. For the first time, the Conference Semifinal round will be exclusive on VERSUS with a 200 percent increase in games. In the regular season, we’re increasing VERSUS’ coverage from roughly 50 to 90 games.

“I cannot understate the importance of Gary Bettman’s leadership. He understands the scope and the promotional ability of not only our new NBC Sports Group, but of the new NBCUniversal under Comcast’s ownership. The NHL has been and will continue to be one of our cornerstone properties.”

The NHL’s partnerships with both NBC Sports and VERSUS launched for the 2005-06 season and the six-year relationship has produced many ratings milestones. Among them:
• Overall NHL television ratings in the United States have increased by 84 percent over the last four years
• The 2011 NHL Winter Classic on NBC was the most-watched regular season game in the U.S. in 36 years
• VERSUS’ 2011 regular season viewership was the network’s best ever, up 17 percent over last season
• The 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs saw the largest audience in the history of the sport, with Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on • NBC the most-watched NHL game in the U.S. in 36 years
• The 2010 Playoffs on VERSUS were the most watched on U.S. cable in eight years, while the first two rounds were the most watched on cable on record.
• Just last week, VERSUS achieved its best opening night viewership in its six years of Stanley Cup Playoffs coverage

The agreement between the NHL and the NBC Sports Group includes targeted promotion across the combined Comcast/NBCUniversal company which, since the merger, consists of 20 television networks and more than 40 digital platforms. VERSUS, which was in 64 million homes in 2005, is now in more than 79 million homes and is on course for further expansion of its distribution. The combined promotional muscle has already led to increased ratings for events such as the NHL Winter Classic, NHL Heritage Classic and Hockey Day in America.

Over the last five years, the NHL has grown TV ratings, substantially increased sponsorship and advertising revenue through partnerships with blue chip companies, built a robust digital business and created a year-round calendar of big events including the NHL Winter Classic, all while receiving numerous industry awards and media accolades. The League for the 2010-11 season is on pace to once again set a record for total revenue despite the challenging economy, surpassing $2.9 billion overall.

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