Its Time For VERSUS to Get the Credit it Deserves
June 7, 2010 18 Comments
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.