VERSUS Draws NHL’s Biggest Season Opening Audience Since 2002, Most Watched Regular Season Game on Cable Since 2004

NEW YORK, N.Y. (October 8, 2010)-VERSUS averaged 730,000 viewers for the 2010/11 NHL season-opening game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, making it the best start to the season since 2002 and the most-watched NHL regular season telecast on cable since 2004.  The game was also VERSUS’ most-watched regular season game ever surpassing the previous high set by the Pittsburgh Penguins/Detroit Red Wings telecast on March 22, 2010 (622,000 viewers).

Locally, VERSUS earned a 13.4 HH rating in Pittsburgh, making it the highest-rated regular season game in Pittsburgh in network history.  The game also made VERSUS the #1 network overall (among both broadcast and cable) in Pittsburgh.

VERSUS’ coverage of the Colorado Avalanche/Chicago Blackhawks game averaged 430,000 viewers, making it VERSUS’ best regular season game ever with a post 9 p.m. ET start time and the most-watched season-opening late game.  The game showed a 30-percent spike in viewership over the second game to start the 2009/10 season (332,000 viewers).

In Chicago VERSUS garnered 3.4 HH rating, making it the network’s highest-rated regular season game ever in the market.  The game also propelled VERSUS to the #1 cable network in Chicago.

(Source:  Nielsen Fast National Live+Same Day data and Nielsen Arianna Local data for 10/7/10)

VERSUS prides itself on super-serving passionate sports fans across all platforms (VERSUS.com, VERSUS on Demand and VERSUS HD).  Now in more than 75 million homes, the network is the cable television home of the National Hockey League (NHL), IZOD IndyCar Series, Tour de France, World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and Professional Bull Riders (PBR).  VERSUS also airs NASCAR, NBA, UFC, college football and college basketball programming.  The network is home to the best outdoor programming on television and airs original programs not available anywhere else, including The Daily Line and Sports Soup.  VERSUS, a wholly owned company of Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ: CMCSA, CMCSK), is distributed via cable systems and satellite operators throughout the United States.

Hockey Returns to the Sitcom World As the Season Begins

It’s good for the sport to get hockey mentioned in TV, movies and other forms of media. I’m sure I’ve made this point in this space before, but hockey’s inclusion in popular entertainment is a way of letting people know that hockey is something that people do, as silly as that sounds. If an everyday sitcom character (or guest star) plays or watches hockey, it can serve as a reminder that “Oh, hey, that’s on. I like that, I should remember to watch that.”

Now, not that it featured any actual players, but last night’s episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia should definitely encourage someone to tune into an NHL game, if only to see if “jabroni” truly is a hockey word. The show, which features Flyers gear in the background of Paddy’s Bar, the main setting, checked off the Flyers as their third Philly sports team (episodes have been done about the Flyers and, tangentially, the Eagles) on the show. Creator Rob McElhenney is from the city and a known Flyers fan, and co-creator/star Charlie Day … is apparently a fantastic skater.

McElhenney’s character, Mac, calls into a radio show and luckily guesses Reggie Leach as the Flyers single-season goal scoring record holder, and wins a chance at a shot from center ice to win a weekend at a radio beach house with athletes. Cue the hilariously wonderful mock-up of cheesy sports montages, as Charlie helps Mac with his training, including the inspired notion that he should carry the puck like a dish of cream (a poke at the first Mighty Ducks film, which had the characters handling pucks like eggs).

At the end of the episode, the scene shifted to the actual Wells Fargo Center (I can’t be certain if the gang was green screened in or actually filmed there) with Charlie in a Flyers jersey (how can he afford it?) featuring Mac falling flat on the ice the second he stepped out there. It was a great moment for comedy, and a great pop culture moment for hockey. I hope to hear fans at games over-using the word “jabroni” for years to come. Between this and Paul Giamatti’s crazed, mole-person of an Islander fan who can’t stand Matt Moulson on 30 Rock (I found it funny that Moulson scored two goals in the pre-season game the night after the episode aired, and saw it as a response), hockey is getting it’s brand and it’s colors on the right kind of shows this Fall. Just, you know, avoid Outsourced.

Islanders to Broadcast Games on College Radio Station, Will Use College Students On Broadcast, Should Definitely Give Me a Call

From Chris Botta:

The Islanders are hoping to finalize a unique radio arrangement with Hofstra University prior to Saturday night’s opening of the NHL regular season, multiple sources have informed Point Blank.

The marriage is a potentially fascinating one. Radio Hofstra University on 88.7 FM would actually provide Islanders radio   broadcasts with a stronger signal than the franchise has had in five years. WRHU covers most of Long Island and carries into Queens and Brooklyn. The Islanders broadcasts would also be available on the Internet.

What would Hofstra get out of the arrangement? For starters, the University’s Communications program would be able to sell to prospective students that their school provides opportunities for youngsters to work on NHL games.

Your Announcers and Open Thread For VERSUS’ Afternoon Doubleheader

Minnesota vs. Carolina, 12:00 PM ET
National TV (US):
VERSUS (HD)
National TV (Canada): TSN (HD)
Play by Play: John Forslund
Color: Billy Jaffe

Columbus vs. San Jose, 3:00 PM ET
National TV (US):
VERSUS (HD)
National TV (Canada): TSN (HD)
Play by Play: Dave Strader
Color: Andy Brickley

Hockey Central and VERSUS NHL Coverage in 2010: Style Without Substance

There will be a more detailed review of the NHL On VERSUS next week (because who would give an opinion about something after only seeing such a small sample? Actually, you’ll be seeing that a lot today) but largely, VERSUS once again proved itself as a great place to see hockey, with over 12 hours of games, studio content and hockey-related programming (sure, who doesn’t want to watch the TV edit of Slap Shot!) plus a ton of discussion of the sport on nightly talker The Daily Line (which is getting a little better since turning to a late-night talk show format) but still not a bastion of actual hockey discussion. This is only a small part of what VERSUS does, but still, hockey’s diehard fans are fickle and have other options, especially with Center Ice free until October 24th. It’s the one weakness the network still has.

First, let’s look at the improvements VERSUS has made. The game production and graphics have, gradually over the past 5+ years, developed into a top-notch broadcast. Another good decision: finally making the needed improvement to the network’s bottom line during the intermission, but it has yet to be seen if they can implement it during game action, which was a bit of an annoyance during last Spring’s playoffs. Other good stuff: Keep Mike “Doc” Emrick and Daryl Reaugh together as much as you can. Likely put together on opening night since Dallas (Reaugh’s local employer) faces off against New Jersey (Emrick’s longtime home) tomorrow night, they put together a broadcast funnier and more engaging (and, most importantly, less forced) than anything on Hockey Central. For example, after a highlight of the first Leafs’ goal last night, Emrick snarked “print the playoff tickets!” which was more than enough to make up for a weak, dated vuvuzela joke.

(A small gripe: why, for the fifth consecutive season, does VERSUS insist on opening their season with a west-coast game from Denver as the second half of the doubleheader? The Avalanche haven’t been good for all five of those years. Couldn’t we got to LA or Phoenix or San Jose? I know the options when it comes to American NHL teams that can host a 10PM ET are slim, but does Adrian Dater have photos of somebody at the network?)

So now we come to Hockey Central. It is still just not a very good show. It is forced and dull, and even when the discussions are forced, they somehow are unable to make anything seem compelling, or as if it even matters. Many discussions featured all three studio analysts (the captain on a sinking ship Keith Jones, the perennial human Xanax Brian Engblom and newbie Aaron Ward) agreeing on the same side of a debate, and agreeing in a way that was in no facet interesting.

Here is what Hockey Central needs to do: force their analysts (and host Bill Patrick) take ritualistic shots of Red Bull so that they’ll at least be energetic and exciting when they debate. If I were a casual hockey fan listening to these guys babble on, I’d wonder why whatever they were talking about matters. Say what you will about hyped up debate shows on ESPN, at least those shows capture the ruse of making it seem like whoever’s yelling at you has a valid, compelling opinion. I’m not saying I want Brian Engblom to yell at me, but I just don’t want him to put me to sleep.

Overall, VERSUS remains infinitely watchable when they focus on the games and games alone. The network aired nine hours of game coverage on Thursday, and they probably could’ve used another game to fill in the late afternoon slot. That San Jose-Columbus series (being played today and tomorrow) should have been bumped up a day to give VERSUS another game. Also, kudos to John Forslund and Billy Jaffe (on Minnesota-Carolina) for doing a good job on the always tricky task of calling games from Europe off a monitor. Finally, Aaron Ward shows potential in the studio, though he tends to prepare or package his analysis a bit too much. That’s okay though. Knowing what it’s like when you’re new to a production the way he is, it’s likely necessary for him for a little while. He’s like a lot of what you see on VERSUS: It’s getting better, but it’s just a little dull in spots.

Team-by-Team Games Broadcast On TV

Anaheim (Prime Ticket/FS West/KDOC) – 81
Atlanta (FS South/SportSouth) – 66
Boston (NESN) – 82
Buffalo (MSG) – 82
Calgary (Sportsnet West) – 79
Carolina (FS Carolina) – 70
Chicago (CSN Chicago/WGN) – 82
Colorado (Altitude) – 82
Columbus (FS Ohio) – 79
Dallas (FS Southwest/TXA 21) – 82
Detroit (FS Detroit) – 82
Edmonton (Sportsnet West) – 80
Florida (FS Florida) – 73
Los Angeles (FS West) – 77
Minnesota (FS North/KSTC) – 82
Montreal (RDS) – 82
Nashville (FS Tennessee) – 61
New Jersey (MSG Plus/MSG) – 82
NY Rangers (MSG) – 82
NY Islanders (MSG Plus) – 82
Ottawa (Sportsnet Ontario) – 82
Philadelphia (CSN Philadelphia/Comcast Network) – 82
Phoenix (FS Arizona) – 65
Pittsburgh (FS Pittsburgh) – 82
San Jose (CSN Bay Area) – 81
St. Louis (FS Midwest) – 80
Tampa Bay (Sun Sports) – 72
Toronto (Sportsnet/TSN/Leafs TV) – 82
Vancouver (Sportsnet Pacific) – 82
Washington (CSN Mid-Atlantic) – 82