Its Time For VERSUS to Get the Credit it Deserves

Hockey fans tend to have selective memories.  This tends to be amusing fodder for me on Twitter and when listening to hockey fans debate almost anything.  It stops being amusing when it leaves the ice and whoever you listen to arguing begins discussing the NHL’s television deals.  As a media enthusiast, it annoys me more than anything how much the average hockey fan – never mind the average non-hockey fan – flat out gets wrong about the NHL’s contract with VERSUS.  From how no one else would take the NHL (ESPN offered, remember) to the notion that VERSUS’ quality of production isn’t as high as ESPN’s (it is), and finally, there’s one more thing I need to correct 90% of hockey fans on the planet about today.

The idea that The NHL’s contract with VERSUS was bad for the league.  It has built itself into a better partner in all aspects as ESPN was during its’ 12 years with the league before the lockout.  Especially this season, with the ramped up coverage and the additional studio content and the best playoff ratings on cable ever… It is time for every MSM columnist, every “pundit”, every commentator, every Chicago Blackhawks owner, every blogger, every commenter and every fan to admit that they were wrong on this.  3.6 million people on a cable network that couldn’t draw flies before the NHL got here (and couldn’t even for two years into the deal) can’t be wrong.

Don’t try to argue with me that it was because of the big market clubs either.  The NHL just say a Conference Final round in which the ratings for both series were practically even, despite one of the series including a Canadian team, whose local ratings don’t count when calculating figures.  NHL fans know VERSUS.  Casual sports fans know that VERSUS is the place to find the biggest games in the sport, and if they make the effort – and they have – they’ll find it.  The joke is over – VERSUS is for real.

I don’t have the ratings for Game #4 of the Stanley Cup Final at press time (you’ll see them before the end of the day I almost guarantee) but they’ll come close to 4 million.  It’ll come close to being the 2nd highest rated NHL game on cable since the Rangers won the Stanley Cup on ESPN in 1994.  VERSUS has worked hard and been the brunt of a lot of criticism to get where they are, and I feel as a hockey fan that it is high time we all gave them some hard-earned respect.

VERSUS is headed into their final season as the cable rightsholder for the NHL.  I will reveal once the season is over my plans for predictions about the rights – who should get them, who will get them, who I want to get them – but I’m tempted to just end the suspense right now and answer all as VERSUS.  However, it isn’t that simple and VERSUS knows this.  VERSUS may very well allow a split cable rights deal next time around (I’m just giving an opinion, no inside knowledge).  You know why they’d do it?  Because they think it’d be for the better of the game and the network.  That’s what this whole contract has been about.  Making the NHL into a more TV-friendly and ratings-friendly league, and making VERSUS into a legitimate sports network.  I’d say that they’ve both come into their own and met their goals.

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About stevelepore
Steve Lepore is the Managing Editor of Puck the Media. His work has been featured in The Hockey News. Feel free to contact him at stevemlepore@gmail.com

18 Responses to Its Time For VERSUS to Get the Credit it Deserves

  1. John says:

    I agree, Vesus has been a good partner for the NHL. ESPN treats sports other than the NFL, NBA and MLB as filler and does nothing to promote other sports.

  2. john says:

    i agree, as well. I think with 9 gazillion channels on cable systems in a county of 300 million, there is room not to be on espn. i think, though, the nhl should consider backing off broadcast though with the exception of the winter classic and the stanley cup. i remember seeing a few times this year, where outside of championships, no league/sport did all that well on broadcast. maybe we shouldn’t be drumming for vs over nbc, but rather espn over vs. even then, nbc or whoever should get the cup and winter classic, with only the game of the week going to espn.

  3. Sean says:

    If the NHL leaves NBC/Versus, especially with the giant Comcast merger looming, then Gary Bettman should be punched in the groin.

    The best thing about Versus has a hockey fan is that they show a LOT of games, during the season and during the playoffs. There’s no room on ESPN’s schedule for regular season hockey.

    The only ?? is if a network like Turner Sports wants to get involved on a limited basis. TBS has one MLB game a week and some playoff games. Would that interest them with hockey?

  4. leafsfan1967 says:

    I agree with much of what has been written here. i just wish Versus had different play by play guys. Heck, I’d just be happy if they stopped using Joe Benihaha from Washington. It’s the terrible on air talent that makes some Versus games very hard to watch.

    • J says:

      ok leafsfan. just who do you propose that versus use in the booth? let’s hear some of your recommendations.

  5. Habsintown says:

    It’s still a killer that to cable (sat.) penetration is only 75% or so of homes. Yes, it’s been a painful struggle to get to this point for Versus and the NHL, so the two will probably continue to grow together.

    The real plus for the sports viewer is the competition to a sports TV monopoly that has grown, thanks to the NHL. Competition is good for everyone and ESPN has done more damage to the consumer with its confiscatory per home charge than anyone in the TV industry.

  6. leafsfan1967 says:

    J :ok leafsfan. just who do you propose that versus use in the booth? let’s hear some of your recommendations.

    Here’s my list of Play by Play Guys. Some of them they are already using others not.

    Chris Cuthbert

    Ken Daniels

    Doc Emrick

    John Kelly

    Dan Kelly Jr.

    Sam Rosen

    Dave Strader

    • nosferatu says:

      And other than Emrick, the ones they do use are used way too infrequently.

      Off the top of my head, a couple I can think of to add to the list are Kenny Albert (I don’t know, are people bothered by him? He was solid when filling in for Howie Rose for a few games for the Islanders this year) and Randy Hahn, who did one national Versus game this year.

    • Chris S says:

      Sorry, but there’s no way Chris Cuthbert will ever do games on Versus. He calls 1-2 games a week on TSN, plus he’s busy all summer long calling most of the CFL games for TSN, I think he could use a break, not more work.

  7. Mike in Idaho says:

    I agree that the NHL should stay on NBC/Versus, especially now that ratings are back to ESPN levels. Versus’ constant close up cutaways during gameplay (to the point of missing the overtime game winning goal a couple of games back) annoy me but I remember ESPN was just as bad and Versus at least shows every game they can during the playoffs, something ESPN would never do. I think the deal with Versus was bad in the short term for the NHL but the corner has been turned and I think long term it will be good.

  8. Laura says:

    Versus has done some good things, and I would be in favor of them being A rights-holder, but not the only one. Ideally for overall exposure, the NHL gets back on one of the ESPNs, even if only in small doses to begin with. You cannot put a price on the cross-promotional benefits a sport gets from being on that network.

    <>

    I have to quibble with this. During the regular season, they have hockey on two nights per week. The other five days of the week–nada. Zip. Zilch. No nightly highlights show. No weekly highlights show. No once-a-week magazine show. No showing of player profile pieces — or anything else, for that matter that is even remotely related to hockey. Thus, 70% of the time, the network is not a true destination for hockey fans.

    If they are really a committed parter, as the NHL and Versus like to claim they are, why can’t they find one lousy half-hour per night for a highlights show? Oh, that’s right, cage fighting must air! My bad.

  9. Wayne stuck in AL says:

    Versus still has no signature play-by-play announcer (unlike ESPN’s Gary Thorne), and their studio show is a cure for insomnia. (Look up the word “dullard” in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of Keith Jones.) Furthermore, I keep hearing rumors of a nightly highlight show similar to NHL2night or On The Fly, and we STILL haven’t gotten one.

    • stevelepore says:

      Yeah, that Doc Emrick is a nobody. The Gary Thorne fetish needs to end, people.

      • nosferatu says:

        But I do think the fact that Emrick only really appears for “big” games is a valid point. Obviously he has his Devils commitments, but it adds to the revolving door of announcers on the network, especially during the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs. If anything, I would say that Beninati is more of the signature play-by-play guy for Versus–at least if we could compare number of games broadcast by all PxP guys on the network.

  10. leafsfan1967 says:

    nosferatu : If anything, I would say that Beninati is more of the signature play-by-play guy for Versus–at least if we could compare number of games broadcast by all PxP guys on the network.

    Yes and that’s my point. As long as he is their signature play-by-play guy their coverage will not be taken seriously.

  11. Chris says:

    I’ve liked what Versus has done for the league and they’ve certainly taken the sport more seriously than ESPN did in it’s later years. I do agree with the Beninati criticism though, and I think there’s an easy fix.

    The reason why Beninati gets so many games for Versus despite many people voicing their displeasure likely has to do with the fact that he’s already a Comcast employee. This explains why Emrick has to work around his Devils schedule, while Beninati can work whenever Versus needs him to, because he’s working for the same company regardless of which channel he’s on. So if Beninati was to get the boot, who should replace him? Simple. Any of Comcast’s other play by play guys because they’re all better.

    Jim Jackson from Philadelphia is better, as is Pat Foley in Chicago. For West Coast games, they could turn to Randy Hahn from San Jose. Use one, two, or all of those guys and you get the same ease of availability and cost as using Beninati but a huge boost in quality. Versus has shown before that they have the fans in mind when they added games to the schedule on days other than Monday and Tuesday during the final weeks before the playoffs, and have continued it by having studio programming following Stanley Cup Final games that they didn’t even televise. Hopefully, they’ll take the fans into mind yet again and make this change.

  12. Dave Sullivan says:

    Turner is proving that you don’t have to kiss ESPN’s ring. They have half of the NBA Playoffs, the Division Series and half of the League Championship Series, and now March Madness. I think that those properties, altogether, demonstrate that ESPN doesn’t have a monopoly on anything. Versus did one thing that ESPN was unwilling to do in 2005: they cared about the NHL. I admit that when the deal was announced – when ESPN, TNT, and USA were all rumored to be interested – I was a little creastfallen. But Versus has been improving from day one. People made fun of their studio, they spruced it up. People made fun of their graphics, they revamped them. Now, they still need to work on the rest of their network. I seldom ever watch Versus except for the NHL; there’s simply nothing else worth watching on the network. They have some good college football games, but little else. It would be great if they could pick up a baseball package in 2014. Their penetration is a big problem. Not only is Versus available in only three homes for each of ESPN’s four, but on cable systems that offer it, it often has a disadvantageous channel assignment.

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