University of Maine men's hockey player Lynden Breen plays against the University of Alaska at Alfond Arena on Jan. 7, 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Ken Ralph is elated that Hockey East landed a six-year media rights deal with ESPN and ESPN+.

“Quite frankly, it was a necessary step for the league in terms of upgrades in that area. I’m excited about how it all turned out,” the University of Maine director of athletics said.

The games used to be streamed on CBS Sports. Ralph said this will be a significant upgrade.

“There was a really wide gap in the quality of streaming available on CBS Sports. But by moving to ESPN, with their resources and expectations, the quality will be much higher and much more consistent from a production standpoint,” Ralph said.

The deal calls for all of the men’s and women’s games to be streamed on ESPN+ beginning in the fall and carrying through the 2027-28 season. That will include over 300 games annually, including playoff games.

The Hockey East women’s tournament championship game will be shown on an ESPN network.

There will also be three games aired on ESPNU each season.

Brian Smith, associate commissioner of Hockey East, said he has been working on this deal for six years.

“The schools will still produce the games but ESPN has an infrastructure in place and has higher standards,” said Smith, who was also excited about the deal.

“This was always the end goal,” Smith said.

In addition, ESPN paid the league a rights fee, which is something CBS Sports didn’t do. Smith said they aren’t allowed to discuss the financial terms on the agreement.

“That’s a really big deal,” said Ralph. “A lot of hockey leagues put their productions out there for free just for the exposure.”

The UMaine AD said another plus for Black Bear fans is that ESPN+ also has a deal with America East, the league UMaine competes in in all of its other sports except football, which competes in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“So now our fans will be able to watch all our teams [except football] on one service instead of two,” said Ralph.

It costs $6.99 a month or $69.99 a year to subscribe to ESPN+.

CBS Sports has a $4.99 a month package or a $9.99 premium package.

Ralph was also pleased that women’s hockey will receive the exposure it deserves.

ESPN is in the first year of a seven-year National Hockey League contract after a 16-year absence.

The network has covered the Frozen Four for several years and it added the women’s Frozen Four in 2021.

Ralph said adding college hockey to its platform will benefit ESPN and its NHL coverage.

“ESPN is proud to add rights to Hockey East, one of the sport’s premier conferences, to our ever-growing lineup of top-level hockey leagues and events,” Dan Margulis, the senior director of programming for ESPN, said in a press release.

“With half of over 300 games annually dedicated to women’s hockey, we are very excited to help grow the sports across ESPN platforms.”

Hockey East also reached a multi-year extension of its partnership with the New England Sports Network, which dates back to the league’s inception in the 1984-85 season.

NESN will televise at least 50 Hockey East games each season, including playoff games like the men’s semifinals and championship game from TD Garden in Boston.

“Hockey East programming is an integral part of our network and how we serve our New England sports fanbase, so we are incredibly excited to have extended our partnership once again,” said NESN President and CEO Sean McGrail.