Another “Will They? Won’t They?” NHL/ESPN Article

From John Consoli of Mediaweek:

“There is a good, healthy buzz about the NHL,” said Christine Merrifield, senior vp and director of video investment at MediaVest. “From an advertiser perspective, it’s priced fairly. and being able to combine broadcast and cable buys is good.” Scale may be the only factor working against the NHL. “The one downside is that it doesn’t have a mass reach that the other major TV sports have,” she said.

The uptick in hockey comes at a crucial time for the current rights holders. With Versus and NBC contracts set to expire in 2011, John Skipper, evp of content at ESPN, has indicated he’d like hockey to return to ESPN and ABC.

Jamie Davis, president of Versus, aims to hold on to the asset. “We took over the telecasts in 2005, the year after the lockout, and together with the NHL, as true partners, we have worked to bring the viewers back,” Davis said.

At least one media buyer is rooting for Versus. “If the NHL goes back to ESPN, it is going to get lost on a network that shows so many different sports,” said one national TV buyer. “On Versus, it stands out.”

The buyer added that the completion of the proposed Comcast-NBC deal would make a joint NBC/Versus hockey buy just as potent as an ABC/ESPN buy. 

9 Responses to Another “Will They? Won’t They?” NHL/ESPN Article

  1. Chris S says:

    I sort of agree with the Versus guys. I’m not big on their coverage, but you can’t argue with their effort in showing the NHL. Maybe the NHL can do what MLB and the NBA does, have 2 cable partners.

  2. kevin says:

    If you have Versus and NBC what more do you need, really? Going back to ESPN2 is a step backwards!!! ESPN will NEVER show in a year as much hockey as Versus does in a week.

  3. Mike in Idaho says:

    Agreed, the NHL should not go back to ESPN as it will only get buried and ignored. Versus is going all out for the playoffs and showing everything they possibly can every night which ESPN will never do.

  4. nosferatu says:

    The previous post, regarding issues with NBC affiliates not showing playoff games (here in Ohio I’m looking forward to several Sundays without hockey because of crappy Indians games which are simultaneously airing on cable), is exactly why I WOULDN’T mind the NHL ending up back on ESPN and ABC. I endured the same thing in Missouri, with Cardinals games pre-empting hockey games, before moving to Ohio, so it’s obviously a widespread problem. Would it be avoided on ABC? Maybe not, but it couldn’t get worse.

    And the distribution of Versus is still an issue. I can’t convince my girlfriend to get some extra sports tier package, so it’s impossible to watch Versus when at her place. ESPN or its many channels? Not an issue.

    • Josh says:

      If the NHL somehow were to wind up back in the hands of ABC/ESPN, you could expect to see a grand total of *zero* games on broadcast television. Those two networks currently have a lock on the NBA for several years, and since NBA and NHL playoffs fall at the same time of the year when, exactly, would ABC have room for the NHL on its schedule?

      You’d see no hockey on ABC, some of the conference finals and probably all of the SCF on ESPN, and everything else would be on ESPN2 and local sports networks.

      • nosferatu says:

        At least it wouldn’t be pre-empted by local baseball in April and May. And admittedly this does seem to be the trend for sporting events.

        That said, in a lot of ways I’m satisfied with what Versus and NBC do with the NHL; there are times, specifically this time of year, when I can’t help but be really frustrated by certain things.

  5. Sean says:

    Is there still a problem with Versus distribution? I guess I’m lucky since I have Comcast but Versus is right next to ESPN on my cable.

    I have always thought the NHL would be foolish to go back to ESPN. NASCAR was hot when they went to ESPN, look at what happened to them. The Arena Football League literally went bankrupt when it left NBC to go to ESPN. And its NBA coverage has been terrible and the ratings have suffered if LeBron or Kobe aren’t playing.

    But even besides all that, the NHL is a perfect spot to benefit from the looming Comcast/NBC monster. Versus has already made noise about getting the Pac-10 or ACC college football/basketball packages. They’re going to try to compete with ESPN…why the heck would you leave now??

    • nosferatu says:

      I think that, other than Comcast, very few cable operators have Versus on the standard digital cable lineup. With Time Warner, for instance, I have to subscribe to the Sports Pack to get the network. I can’t imagine the average cable consumer is doing that, hence the reason why Versus is still in tens of millions of fewer homes than ESPN.

      A true fan of hockey will shell out the extra money and will scroll way up the channel listings to find Versus; the casual sports fan won’t usually. But even a move to ESPN won’t change things too much–Americans are too set in their attitudes and habits for hockey’s viewership numbers to really grow much.

  6. kevin says:

    Honestly, if ESPN has NFL, NBA, MLB, NASCAR, etc….there is no room for the NHL to grow. Like ESPN is going to say…..we won’t show this NBA game so we can get less ratings and make less money with an NHL game. ESPN will take the NHL if it can get the tv rights for nothing and do with it whatever they like. They would have to start a 5th ESPN channel that no one would get anyway if they were going to do hockey correctly

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