VERSUS’ 10 Most and Least-Watched Games Through the End of 2010

NOTE: All numbers with help from Son of the Bronx

Top 10 VERSUS Games Through 12/31/10 (In Total Viewers)

1. Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia, 12/14 – 750,000 viewers
2. Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh, 10/7 – 730,000 viewers
3. Buffalo vs. Boston, 12/7 – 438,000 viewers
4. Colorado vs. Detroit, 10/12 –
432,000 viewers
5. Chicago vs. Colorado, 10/7 –
430,000 viewers
6. St. Louis vs. Chicago, 11/30 – 390,000 viewers
7. Buffalo vs. Philadelphia, 10/26 – 347,000 viewers
8. Boston vs. Washington, 10/29 – 335,000 viewers
9. Washington vs. NY Rangers, 11/9 – 331,000 viewers
10. New Jersey vs. Washington, 12/21 – 307,000 viewers

VERSUS 10 Least-Viewed Games Through 12/31/10 (Not counting Bonus/Premiere Games)

1. Phoenix vs. St. Louis, 12/31 – 113,000 viewers
2. St. Louis vs. Colorado, 11/15 – 138,000 viewers
3. Minnesota vs. Columbus, 12/27 – 143,000 viewers
4. Los Angeles vs. Minnesota, 10/25 – 149,000 viewers
5. St. Louis vs. Nashville, 11/24 – 150,000 viewers
6. Dallas vs. Carolina, 11/29 – 163,000 viewers
7. Boston vs. Tampa Bay, 11/22 – 167,000 viewers
8. Boston vs. Tampa Bay, 12/28 – 202,000 viewers 
9. Colorado vs. NY Rangers, 10/18 –
209,000 viewers
10. Anaheim vs. Boston, 12/20 – 234,000 viewers

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VERSUS NHL Viewership Totals For December

NOTE: The VERSUS broadcasts on December 8, 9 and 15 did not air in the home markets of the teams playing due to blackout rules. All numbers courtesy of Son of the Bronx.

December 6 – San Jose vs. Detroit: 280,000 viewers

December 7 – Buffalo vs. Boston: 438,000 viewers

December 8 – San Jose vs. Philadelphia: 169,000 viewers

December 9 – Florida vs. Washington: 154,000 viewers

December 13 – Los Angeles vs. Detroit: 264,000 viewers

December 14 – Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia: 750,000 viewers

December 15 – NY Rangers vs. Pittsburgh: 157,000 viewers

December 20 – Anaheim vs. Boston: 234,000 viewers

December 21 – New Jersey vs. Washington: 307,000 viewers

December 27 – Minnesota vs. Columbus: 143,000 viewers

December 28 – Boston vs. Tampa Bay: 202,000 viewers

December 31 – Phoenix vs. St. Louis: 113,000 viewers

Hockey Day in America is a Clear Chance For NHL to Counter-Program Another Busy Sports Day

One of the main thing that the NHL gets continuous praise with regards to the Winter Classic is that it is a simple diversion from what American television audiences have had beaten into their head for decades: Watch. Meaningless. College. Football. It used to be you’d see hour after hour of terrible, uninspired football. It becomes especially depressing when you know how impassioned and exciting NCAA Football can be during the season (one can only assume that, like in the NHL, the players aren’t paid for the post-season) and it is really hard to keep your attention, particularly when you’ve been seeing bad bowl match-ups for two weeks by New Year’s Day.

There’s a basic concept in TV known a counter-programming. Put simply, counter-programming is putting something fresh and different against something that might be tired or on a down-turn. For example, other networks are loading up on programming to take on American Idol this season. Or in more vague terms, when all four major networks have dramas in a timeslot, one my choose to launch a block of comedies. For NBC, the Winter Classic is counter-programming to ABC and ESPN’s endless marathon of bowl-mania, and it works.

Seeing the success they’ve had on New Year’s Day, they now appear to be looking for another tentpole on what is another day filled up with sporting events that have seen better days. As we mentioned yesterday, NBC is planning six hours of coverage on what the league and USA Hockey have deemed “Hockey Day in America,” February 20th from 12-6PM ET. It’ll feature live footage from Millenium Park in Chicago, as well as regional (maybe doubleheader?) NHL action. In addition to that, VERSUS will be airing the Heritage Classic, outdoors from Calgary’s McMahon Stadium, at 6:00 PM ET, giving hockey fans a full, nine hours of marathon viewing. Putting all this hockey back-to-back is another stalwart programming concept, block programming.

What’s to compete against on February 20th? NASCAR and the NBA’s signature regular season events, the Daytona 500 (early in the day on FOX) and the NBA All-Star Game (in the evening on TNT). Both of these events have seen recent downturns in ratings. 2010’s edition of The Great American Race (which saw some delays) on FOX drew 13.3 million viewers, while miles ahead of any hockey game, the lowest for any Daytona 500 since 2000, and had a 7.7, the lowest ratings for the race since 1991. Meanwhile, the 2010 NBA All-Star game, while setting record attendance in person, tied an all-time low with a 3.8 rating and 6.3 million viewers.

Now, both of these events could see a spark in 2011, but the NHL is smart to bank on people maybe looking to take their viewing habits elsewhere on February 20th with day-long hockey coverage. Why not try and start a new tradition? People who are tired of racing might flip on the hockey, see that it’ll be on the rest of the day, and stick with it. Hopefully NBC and VERSUS will cross-promote, and maybe that viewer finds VERSUS (which can always use finding) for the Heritage Classic. Unlikely for the masses, but you never know on an individual level.

Right now, the NHL is about creating tentpole events. Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated called the United States a “big event nation”, and he’s not wrong. We like holding on to past notions of communal viewing and experiences. The NHL had so few “stop and look at us!” type events for many years, beyond the All-Star Game and the Playoffs. Now, they’ve developed the Winter Classic into a cult hit, and they’ll try to do something similar with Hockey Day in America in February, and a minor level with the All-Star Weekend later this month. If we string together events to keep the casual fan’s attention until the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they’ll get into the post-season tournament with more ferver than ever. Nothing wrong with that.

HockeyHighlightDome, Night 2 of Overtime vs. On the Fly

Night 2, Tuesday, January 11

NHL Overtime, 11:00 PM ET, VERSUS

Host: Last night’s master of ceremonies Liam McHugh, who coined the word “unvitation.”

Analysts: Once again, Ken Daneyko and Billy Jaffe were there. I like the contrast with sort of the “X’s and O’s” of Jaffe, to the former bruiser in Daneyko, who had a segment that proclaimed him “The Fight Docter” in which he broke down the fight of the night.

Lead Story: Osgood injury.

Lead Highlights: Flyers/Sabres, the second consecutive night VERSUS has led with the game they were airing, but once again, hard to justify picking another game.

Non-Highlight Footage: As with last night, the game’s in-house reporter spoke with a star from the game, this time Scott Hartnell. Plus, more of the great chalk talk from Jaffe on the Flyers/Sabres game. I was going to complain that they weren’t able to do this with non-VERSUS games, but all of a sudden, there was Jaffe using the video board to do just that, with that night’s Canadiens/Rangers and Bruins/Senators games. Also, there was the typical post-game hit from the announcers at the rink. Once again, a Comcast Sportsnet crew (DC) was brought in to do a post-game hit for analysis on Capitals/Panthers. Another thing that should be noted is that VERSUS often uses post-game interviews from other networks, something NHL Network also does.

Interviews: Less time to fill tonight with 10 games and the All-Star news, so no phoners or any interview material. Might have been cool to have an actual All-Star on the show, though. There was also a taped hit with Eric Staal from earlier in the day, which is much better than the usual phoners.

Time Spent on Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin: Ovechkin’s name wasn’t even mentioned until the second commercial tease, and his game against the Florida Panthers not in the show until at least 20 minutes in, and the highlights were teased with a Bruce Boudreau story. Crosby’s name wasn’t brought up until 35 minutes in as part of the NHL All-Star rosters. Crosby & Ovechkin were bantered about as potential All-Star captains as well.

Spreading the Love (West Coast Coverage): With the Vancouver Canucks on the east coast, it gave the show a chance to talk about the West’s best team, and they went with their game – despite being against the Islanders – second among the highlight brigade out of the night’s 10 games. Edmonton/Dallas and Minnesota/Nashville both got their highlight due in the middle of the show, while Calgary/Carolina and Phoenix/Columbus didn’t show up until the final 20 minutes. Toronto/San Jose got a late update.

Features: Stupid Guardian Project.

Controversial Material: All-Star snubs were discussed as though they’re something that really matter, and were upfront about the fact that certain players asked out of the game. A PK Subban slew-foot from the Habs/Rangers game went unmentioned. A graphical stat of Patrice Bergeron was pointed out to me as incorrect. A knee-on-knee hit of Colton Orr on Logan Couture was just in time to get covered.

NHL On the Fly, 1:00 AM ET, NHL Network

Host: David Amber, who lead with a reference to Smash Mouth’s “All Star”. Twice. Seriously.

Analysts: Kevin Weekes, who remains ever-improving. I certainly hope I’m not sounding condescending when I say that it’s pretty great that the NHL’s flagship TV network has two men of color running their flagship show on any given night. It helps sell the game to not just see white males on every show.

Lead Story: All-Star jerseys.

Lead Highlights: Rangers/Canadiens. It seems that VERSUS has decided to have the host and analyst narrate a few more of the games of the night, deviating from their traditional sound/look of just hearing the play-by-play and color naturally. Not sure which I like better, though Weekes and Amber are better at it than the Overtime trip.

Non-Highlight Footage: Sometimes NHL Network does a great job at focusing on players that wouldn’t normally be a sexy “name” during the game. For example, Weekes highlighted Matthew Darche and Alex Auld during the Canadiens win over the Rangers, or shootout moves by the Canucks in their game against the Islanders, or talking about Kevin Poulin at all during that game.

Another thing NHL Net does a little better than VERSUS is show trends, by which I mean going back a few games to show things that have been going wrong with certain teams, something Kevin Weekes did showing Senators turn-overs from three games past.

Interviews: They had interview clips from various All-Stars around the league from press conferences earlier in the day.

Time Spent on Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin: Ovechkin highlights against Florida made it into the show 12 minutes in, a little bit earlier than Overtime. Crosby and the All-Stars showed up at 18 minutes in, which also included Ovechkin.

Spreading the Love (West Coast Coverage): Vancouver/Islanders was the third game featured on the show, as opposed to the second game on Overtime. However, once again On the Fly had the advantage of being able to show complete Leafs/Sharks highlights, and the game’s mention made it into this show earlier, at about 35 minutes.

Features: They went a bit more in depth with the All-Star stuff, with Kevin Weekes giving some of his Raleigh and North Carolina hotspots! Gotta love Weekesy.

Controversial Material: Kevin Weekes pointed out that at least something had to change with the ugly situation in Ottawa. Interestingly, On the Fly made reference to Alex Burrows being on the same sheet of ice as referee Stephane Auger a year in the wake of their controversial spat. VERSUS did not touch this. I also feel like NHL Net spent more time on the rookies that’d be included. Oh, and All-Star snubs.