The NHL's television deal with Versus was made at the conclusion of player lockout that caused the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season. At the time, Versus offered a two year, $130 million contract (with a network option for a third year) that delivered guaranteed money for Commissioner Gary Bettman (ESPN, which previously held the rights, wanted a revenue-sharing deal similar to NBC's). Versus was expected to use NHL coverage to show it was a legitimate suitor for Major League Baseball and National Football League packages, although they have yet to land either.
Terms of the dealEdit
Under the terms of the contract, Versus will show 54 or more NHL games each season under the agreement, generally on Monday and Tuesday nights. They will also provide nightly coverage of as many Stanley Cup Playoff games as possible (generally two per night in the first two rounds; the Conference Finals are usually played on alternating days), and Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
The network broadcasts at least 54 games during the regular season (usually two games per week, sometimes three or just one), plus the All-Star Game, Skills Competition, and YoungStars game.
At the end of the year, the network has blanket coverage of the playoffs, culminating in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals. Versus also shows the NHL Awards Show and first round of the NHL Draft.
Versus schedules a few doubleheaders during the regular season (consisting of a game in the Eastern Time Zone, and then a Mountain or Pacific Time Zone game). Playoff coverage usually involves doubleheaders throughout the first two rounds, except weekends prior to 2007-08, when NBC often televised multiple games during its broadcast windows.
For the 2007-08 season, Versus may be experimenting with different days of the week to air games on as a way of avoiding the cable ratings behemoth in Monday Night Football.
Versus also plans to, like Canadian network TSN, have its broadcasters work an entire game from between the benches of the two teams. Versus has been the main pioneer of using microphones on players, and was the first network to have a head coach (San Jose Sharks coach Ron Wilson) interviewed on the bench in the middle of the game.
The "Game of the Week"Edit
Included in the schedule is a "Game of the Week" that Versus scheduled for 24 dates of the 2006-07 season and will return in 2007-08. In this "Exclusive" time period, no other National Hockey League game may be broadcast in the United States and, in most cases, no other game is scheduled unless it involves two Canadian teams.
Regional carriers are allowed to air games outside Versus' exclusive window. This is usually for about 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Like NBC, games aired on The NHL on Versus usually feature teams based in the United States, with the exception of playoffs. In the case of playoffs, Versus will occasionally simulcast TSN or CBC if a Canadian team plays, although this mostly occurred in 2005-06; Versus has since made a greater commitment to offering its own production whenever possible.
The selection of teams for The NHL on Versus is somewhat more diverse (possibly due to there being more game slots to air) than its broadcast partner, The NHL on NBC. Because of inordinately high ratings in the Buffalo, New York and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania markets, Versus has made note to air a significant number of games featuring the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins. The New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings, and Boston Bruins also get selected regularly, frequently at or near the maximum of nine appearances per team during the regular season.
Versus' games rated substantially higher than any non-Tour de France programming that Versus had ever aired in comparable timeslots (rating between 0.2 and 0.3 during the regular season). Still, these numbers were quite small compared to ratings for most other sports on national cable channels reaching at least as many homes as Versus.
Versus' playoff viewership did not increase as much as it or the league might have hoped. Versus reached a viewership of 610,836 households for Game 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. This figure was 39% fewer households than what ESPN drew for the Stanley Cup series opener two years earlier (though ESPN has a larger reach than Versus). Game 2 was seen in slightly fewer households (605,501).
Versus' coverage of the 2007 All-Star Game garnered a .7 rating (474,298 viewing homes and 672,948 total viewers). Ratings were down 76% from ABC's ratings in 2004, the last time the game was played, and down 82% from ABC's coverage in 2000. However, some of that significant drop can be attributed to the game being played on a weeknight (Wednesday) as opposed to the traditional weekend game, and the fact that Versus is a cable television network unlike ABC which is a broadcast network. The 2008 All-Star Game will be played on a Sunday.
2007-08 NHL audiences on Versus in the United States are small, but growing. Versus is averaging 246,154 viewers a game, up 24 percent from last year at this time. Over the past year, the Versus distribution has increased to 73.6 million households from 70.8 million.
- Globe & Mail
Criticism and High Definition coverageEdit
Sound and camera anglesEdit
The inaugural season of The NHL on Versus was widely criticized for questionable production values. The first broadcast ever produced, a New York Rangers victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, struggled tremendously to keep up to the expected quality of the modern day broadcast. For starters, the sound throughout the entire broadcast was up to two seconds behind the actual picture. The cameras were zoomed very far in, so only one player was visible at a time and it was impossible for a viewer to see the play develop.
Also, some thought the original set looked amateurish; OLN had very little time to get ready for the season since they had just gotten NHL rights during the summer (most rights deals are completed and announced several months to a year in advance).
Template:Seealso The second game turned out even worse -- a matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins, who would ironically become Versus' most successful markets, was inadvertently blacked out through much of the nation, with a rerun of America's Worst Jobs airing instead.
Another big complaint was that the scoreboard graphic was at the bottom of the screen, and would block out the play.
Rectifying the problemsEdit
OLN largely rectified some of these problems as the season progressed and into subsequent years: it moved the scoreboard to the top of the screen; built a new studio set; and began offering high definition coverage on Comcast-owned iNHD. Renamed Versus, the channel launched a combined HD feed with Comcast-owned The Golf Channel in 2007 to expand its HD coverage. Most of Versus' NHL broadcasts are produced in HD.
- The NHL on NBC
- The NHL on ABC
- The NHL on FOX
- The NHL on ESPN
- Hockey Night in Canada
- The NHL on TSN
- La Soirée du hockey
- List of Stanley Cup Finals broadcasters
- 55th National Hockey League All-Star Game
- 2006 NHL Entry Draft
- 2007 NHL Entry Draft