Why Are NHL Games Blacked Out?



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We have all been there. We have tried to catch a game on national TV or used ESPN+, and we are greeted with a warning saying that the game is subject to a blackout. So, what is an NHL game blackout? Why do they happen? Let us explain. 

When NHL games are blacked out, the blackout will only apply to a specific region. It means that a regional broadcaster holds the right to broadcast that game. This means that the only way to watch the NHL game is to use that regional broadcaster. 

Let’s go into a bit more depth on this. This is because there are reasons why games are blacked out. We know that some people may not necessarily agree with these reasons, but they are important because it helps to protect regional broadcasters that are showing games. 

What Is An NHL Game Black Out?

An NHL game is blacked out when a regional broadcaster holds the right to show that game. This means that it is going to be shown on a television service, but it may not necessarily be the television service that you want.

The NHL games will be blacked out in a single region only. The size of the region will vary based on the team. So, while some NHL teams may have a region that covers a small area, other teams may have regions that cover multiple states.

Generally speaking, there will always be a blackout on the NHL team that is closest to where you live.

Why Does The NHL Black Out Games?

The NHL Blacked Out Games To protect regional broadcasts. People tend to support the teams closest to them. As a result, when that team plays, the bulk of the viewership will be in that region. As you can probably imagine, this is going to translate to a lot of advertising money.

Since we now have national broadcasters showing off every single game, those smaller regional broadcasters figured that the national broadcasters would be eating into their advertising cash. In fact, since sports tend to be some of the most-watched TV events, these regional networks losing viewership to the major networks could have resulted in the loss of a whole lot of jobs.

The regional broadcasters complained to the NHL (the same happened in other sports), and the NHL agreed that there should be blackouts on NHL games.

How Do You Know When An NHL Game Will Be Blacked Out?

Not all NHL games will be blacked out, even in their respective region.

For example, if a national network holds the right to certain games, e.g. ‘Wednesday Night Hockey’, then that game will never be blacked out.

In most cases, NHL games won’t be blacked out until they hit the national broadcasting level. This can be quite unpredictable as we often do not have information about all of the games that are going to be broadcast in advance. However, generally speaking, the more fans and viewers a game is likely to get, the more chance that it is going to be broadcast nationally. This means that there may be blackouts. 

For the most part, though, you can generally assume that most NHL games will be blacked out in an area outside of pre-existing contracts. You can use the NHL schedule to determine whether there will be blackouts in your area. 

Can You Avoid NHL Blackouts?

The easiest way to avoid NHL blackouts is to subscribe to your local, regional network. Once you are subscribed, you will have access to most games. Although, of course, this can often add a substantial amount of cash onto your TV package, often with very little benefit beyond those NHL games.

The second option only applies to online streaming. This will require the use of a VPN to ‘fool’ the streamer that you are living outside of the region you are in. Although, sadly, this method is becoming less and less effective. These streaming companies know when you are using a VPN.

Will NHL Blackouts Ever Be Removed?

There hasn’t really been a big push for NHL blackouts to be removed. Because the regional broadcasters pay the local team cash for the rights to broadcast their games, the teams don’t really want them removed either. It is really just extra cash in their pockets.

The only way we see NHL blackouts being removed is if cable TV completely dies out. However, despite what some people may think, cable TV has shown absolutely no sign of dying out any time soon.


NHL games are blacked out in order to protect regional broadcasters. If there is a blackout through a national broadcaster, then you will have very few choices to watch the game. The only method guaranteed to work is to subscribe to the regional broadcaster.

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