The National Hockey League will have to do a lot to win back its disgruntled fans after it canceled its entire season earlier this year. Now the league may have to win back its broadcasters as well. Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ESPN announced that it would not be renewing its $60 million option to air NHL games during the upcoming season.

That doesn't necessarily mean that ESPN and hockey have broken up for good. But General Electric's (NYSE:GE) NBC signed a revenue-sharing deal with the NHL in which the broadcaster has less at stake if viewers don't tune in. And you can understand why Disney wants a better deal than the one it had originally agreed to.

With ice hockey skating backwards, one wonders whether Sirius Satellite Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI) will try to rework the programming deal that it had signed with the league back in 2003. Then again, Sirius had just 105,000 subscribers onboard back then. These days, the satellite radio provider has roughly 1.5 million subscribers and is looking to close out the year with 2.7 million. As long as satellite radio keeps growing faster than even the most ambitious expectations -- and that's good news for both Sirius and XM Satellite Radio (NASDAQ:XMSR) -- Sirius may be fine even if it sticks with its 2003 arrangement.

Hockey was already in trouble even before the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. The deal with ESPN had already bumped the NHL to the more obscure ESPN2 network. Diehard hockey fans and core markets are likely to embrace the league's eventual return, but national broadcasters have better things to do than tend to a struggling sport while it tries to win back its waning audience.

You have to feel sorry for the league. How happy do you think Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS) is going to be putting out its NHL 2006 video game later this year after it got burned with NHL 2005? A power play can be a glorious scoring opportunity in ice hockey, but only if you aren't on the side that finds itself suddenly playing shorthanded.

Make it your goal to check out some more related content:

  • Hockey's botched season left plenty of other public companies in a bind.
  • The problems with ice hockey have been evident for a while.
  • Vent your frustration with fellow hockey fans in our NHL discussion board.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz knows that his mediocre Florida Panthers wouldn't have given him much to root for this past season anyway. Still, the absence leaves a void. He does own shares in Disney but not in any of the other companies mentioned in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.