NHL Thrilled With Buzz, Profit From All-Star Weekend

NEW YORK (February 2, 2011) – The NHL® All-Star weekend, highlighted by the first ever NHL All-Star Player Fantasy Draft powered by Cisco, was a huge success for the League, earning significant increases in viewership in Canada and the United States, a 42 percent increase in sponsorship revenue over the last All-Star Game in the U.S., an all-time record for video starts on NHL.com and the best retail performance for a U.S.-based All-Star Game in seven years.


The NHL captivated the city of Raleigh for three days as fans tailgated, flocked downtown and more than 31,000 people attended the NHL Fan Fair™ event. On Sunday, a sold out RBC Center watched as Team Lidstrom, captained by Detroit Red Wings stalwart Nicklas Lidstrom, edged Team Staal, captained by Eric Staal of the host Carolina Hurricanes, 11-10.


“By all measures, this was one of the NHL’s most successful All-Star weekends ever with fans and our corporate partners embracing the event in a big way,” said NHL COO John Collins. “Our hosts in Raleigh did a tremendous job and it was gratifying to see the entire community energized around hockey. Our new innovation, the Player Fantasy Draft, was a huge hit. The Skills Challenge and the All-Star Game saw substantial viewership and digital increases. Without a doubt, All-Star Weekend remains one of the League’s most important platforms to celebrate hockey in the host community, promote our best players to a global audience and to provide a pathway for our corporate partners to invest in the sport.”


The success of NHL All-Star presented by Discover continues the League’s momentum created in part by its big events. The recent Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® was the most-watched U.S. NHL regular season game in the last 36 years and generated a 20 percent increase in sponsorship revenue. The NHL’s big event strategy is driving significant growth and, as announced last week, the League is on pace to set an all-time revenue record for the fifth consecutive year.


The NHL’s next major event will be held on Feb. 20, as the NHL will conduct the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic™ (CBC, VERSUS). The outdoor game features the Calgary Flames hosting the Montreal Canadiens at McMahon Stadium. Feb. 20 is also “Hockey Day in America,” a celebration of the roots of hockey, which includes NBC providing regional coverage of a slate of games.


Below are highlights from NHL All-Star:



VERSUS scored its most watched NHL All-Star game in the network’s history, averaging nearly 1.5 million viewers, a 36 percent increase over the 2009 All-Star Game. The telecast, which peaked at nearly 2 million viewers, more than doubled the viewership for the 2007 All-Star Game on VERSUS (691,000). The All-Star game telecast propelled VERSUS to the No. 1-rated cable network in the time period among Men 18-34 and No. 2-rated cable network among Men 18-49 and Men 25-54. VERSUS was the No. 1 rated cable network in several cities, including Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia.


VERSUS also saw significant gains in viewership for the Honda NHL SuperSkills®, averaging 1.18 million viewers on VERSUS, the most watched NHL SuperSkills competition on cable since 2003 and a 35 percent increase over 2009 (875,000).


The debut of the NHL All-Star Player Fantasy Draft™ powered by Cisco on Friday night was also a success with fans as the telecast averaged 624,000 viewers, up 107 percent from the 2010-11 NHL regular-season average on VERSUS (302,000 viewers).


On CBC, both the NHL All-Star Game and Honda NHL SuperSkills® were record-setters. The 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover on CBC’S HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA drew an average audience of 2.389 million viewers, the highest for an All-Star Game on HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA and a 56 percent increase over 2009 (1.527 million). The previous best was 1.67 million viewers for the 1999 All-Star Game, which is as far back as records were kept.


Honda NHL SuperSkills also was a record-setter, drawing an audience of 2.446 million viewers and peaking at more than three million. The average audience was 78 percent higher than the previous high of the 1.371 million that tuned in to the last NHL SuperSkills Competition, held in Montreal in 2009.


TSN’s coverage of the first-ever NHL All-Star Player Fantasy Draft powered by Cisco averaged 1.5 million viewers for its 90-minute Friday night primetime broadcast and won the night on Canadian television in all key demographics.



The new All-Star format was a significant driver of corporate interest for the League, with Discover becoming the first presenting sponsor of the NHL All-Star Game in a decade and Cisco signing on as presenting sponsor of the NHL All-Star Player Fantasy Draft. Honda was title sponsor of the NHL SuperSkills competition. Overall, sponsorship revenue was up 12 percent over the 2009 NHL All-Star Game in Montreal (there was no 2010 NHL All-Star Game as NHL players participated in the Vancouver Olympics) and 42 percent over the last All-Star Game in the U.S. (2008, Atlanta). A record number of NHL partners advertised on VERSUS’ All-Star coverage and Discover launched an NHL-themed spot during All-Star Weekend. Phil Kessel, the last selection in the player draft, was surprised with a new Honda.



Overall retail sales were the best for an All-Star Game held in the United States in seven years and the third best in history for U.S.-based games. Sales were up 20 percent over the 2008 game in Atlanta and up 27 percent over Dallas.


All-Star Youth/Infant/Toddler apparel sales were the best in seven years and up 98 percent over the 2008 Atlanta All-Star and up 150 percent over 2009 in Montreal. Sales were partially driven by the success of The Guardian Project™ merchandise with Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes super hero character apparel selling out.



This year’s NHL All-Star Game showed double- and triple-digit percentage increases in key NHL.com metrics over the 2009 event and set an all-time record for video starts on Sunday, the day of the NHL All-Star Game.


Sunday video starts shattered the month-old record by 26 percent and was 192 percent higher than the season average. Sunday’s video starts represented a 302-percent increase over the 2009 NHL All-Star Game.


Unique visitors for NHL All-Star Weekend were up 67 percent over 2009 and unique visitors for Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover were up 61 percent over 2009.



There was a 920 percent increase in votes for the Blackberry NHL Breakaway Challenge™ during the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition over 2009.



NHL on Facebook: Acquired 5 times more fans during these three days in 2011 versus 2010.


@NHL on Twitter: During All-Star Weekend, acquired 80 percent more new followers than is typical over a three-day period during the 10-11 season.


#NHLAllStar was the top organic tweet in Canada during both Skills and All-Star Game .


More than 76,000 registered voters cast approximately 1.2 million votes in the Guardian 30 Match-Up, a 30-day Facebook fan engagement initiative that enabled fans to determine the order in which each team’s Guardian was unveiled. During the NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover, The Guardian Project™ was the No. 1 search term in the U.S. on Google Trends.



“With the sports world raving about the innovative player draft at this past weekend’s NHL All-Star Game, the focus now shifts to other sports that have gotten heat over outdated and uninteresting formats.” – CBSSports.com


“Officially the most exciting All-Star format in professional sports.” – Yahoo Sports


“A brilliant innovation.” – Yahoo Sports on the Player Draft


“Raleigh will be a tough All-Star act to follow…What a party it was…The bar has been raised high by the friendly folks in Raleigh.” – Ottawa Citizen


“There were many good things about the event in Raleigh. Even for the most cynical media types, it was hard not to feel a good deal of affection for the new innovation.” – ESPN.com



NBC Sports Group Fires NHL On VERSUS Headman Mike Baker, Replaces Him with NHL On NBC Producer Sam Flood

From John Ourand of Sports Business Daily:

NBC Sports continues to assert its dominance over the NBC Sports Group, with at least three more Versus execs being told that they no longer have jobs at the network. Sources tell THE DAILY that the network’s coordinating producer for NHL games, Mike Baker, and Senior VP & Exec Producer Leon Schweir were told that they will not be returning to the network. It is not known if Baker or Schweir will assume other roles within Comcast. Their duties will be overseen by NBC Sports execs Jon Miller, who was promoted to president of programming for NBC Sports and Versus, and Sam Flood, who was promoted to executive producer of NBC Sports and Versus.

On the digital side, Versus VP/Digital Media Neal Scarbrough also has been told that he will not be returning with the network. On Tuesday, Versus President Jamie Davis was told that he would not be returning to the net. So far, it appears that all of the layoffs from the combined company have come from Versus execs; THE DAILY has not heard of any that have come from NBC Sports, to date.

Jon Litner Named New VERSUS President as NBC Sports Group Announces It’s Execs

NEW YORK – February 2, 2011 – The executive leadership team of the newly formed NBC Sports Group – which consists of NBC Sports, Golf Channel, VERSUS, 11 Comcast SportNets (regional sports networks) and their digital assets – was announced today by Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Sports Group.


“People are the most important part of any organization and the experience, talent and leadership ability of this group is second to none,” said Ebersol. “As we formed the new NBC Sports Group by combining the storied history and broad reach of NBC Sports with Comcast’s 24/7 ability to super-serve the fan, it was imperative to create a leadership team that possessed a wide array of experience and expertise across the business. I could not be happier with this group of collaborative leaders and I feel that our division is well positioned going forward.”




In November it was announced that Ebersol would serve as Chairman of the NBC Sports Group pending completion of the Comcast-NBCUniversal transaction, which occurred last week. The new leadership structure takes effect immediately.




Ken Schanzer, a 30-year veteran of NBC Sports, who has been Ebersol’s second-in-command for most of the past two decades, continues in his role as President, NBC Sports and becomes the lead negotiator for all NBC Sports Group partnership agreements. Gary Zenkel remains President, NBC Olympics and Executive Vice President, Strategic Partnerships, NBC Sports, and will now lead the NBC Sports Group Olympic business across all platforms and continues to have business oversight of all digital business. Today’s announcement places Mark Lazarus, Jon Litner, Mike McCarley, Jon Miller and Sam Flood in new roles in the newly formed leadership team.


Mark Lazarus, a 19-year cable industry veteran and former Turner Entertainment Group president, has been named President, NBC Sports Cable Group. He will oversee Golf Channel, VERSUS and the 11 Comcast SportNets, and report directly to Ebersol. Lazarus has worked with every major sports league, Hollywood studio and major advertiser and, as head of Turner Sports, led the network’s acquisition of the rights to the NBA, NASCAR, MLB playoffs, Wimbledon and the British Open, as well as the digital rights to NASCAR.com, PGATOUR.com, and PGA.com. Most recently, Lazarus was the President of Career Sports & Entertainment (CSE) based in Atlanta. Lazarus will relocate from his home in Atlanta to NBCUniversal’s New York corporate headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.


Jon Litner, Comcast Sports Group President, has been promoted to President, VERSUS and SportsNet. Litner, a sports television executive for most of the past two decades with both network and cable experience, joined Comcast in 2005 when he launched SportsNet New York (SNY). Prior to launching SNY, he was the Executive Vice President/COO of the National Hockey League from 1999 to 2005, where he managed U.S. and Canadian broadcasting, digital media, public relations, special events, new business development, game scheduling and in-house television production. He served as Senior Vice President, Programming for ABC Sports prior to the NHL. He reports to Lazarus and will continue to be based at Comcast corporate headquarters in Philadelphia.


Mike McCarley, Senior Vice President, Strategic Marketing, Promotion and Communications, NBC Sports, has been promoted to President, Golf Channel. McCarley has worked alongside Ebersol for more than a decade and has been his close confidant and advisor on many matters pertaining to NBC Sports over the past several years. He is credited with developing NBC Sports’ ‘big-event strategy’ that has resulted in record television audiences for NBC Sports properties including the Olympics, NFL, Kentucky Derby and NHL. He reports to Lazarus and will relocate from 30 Rockefeller Plaza to the Golf Channel studios in Orlando, Fla.




Jon Miller, Executive Vice President, NBC Sports, has been promoted to President, Programming, NBC Sports and VERSUS. Miller, an NBC Sports veteran for 26 years, is known as a savvy and creative programmer. He is credited with creating the NHL Winter Classic and leads NBC Sports Ventures, a unit that generates income from non-traditional revenue streams by acquiring and developing new and existing sports properties. He continues to report to Schanzer for NBC Sports and now reports to Lazarus for VERSUS. Miller remains at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.


Jamie Davis, former President, VERSUS, will continue to work with Lazarus on strategy and planning for the NBC Sports Group as he assesses potential roles within the Comcast family.


Sam Flood, named only the seventh Executive Producer in NBC Sports history last June, has been promoted to Executive Producer, NBC Sports and VERSUS. Flood began his career at NBC as an Olympic researcher in 1986. In addition to his Executive Producer duties, Flood currently produces NBC Sports’ critically acclaimed NHL coverage and “Football Night in America.” He continues to report to Ebersol and remains at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.


Three Theories Explaining the Ratings Increase For the NHL All-Star Game


I’m sure if you were reading this site, along with a lot of others, you know that the VERSUS broadcast of the All-Star Game was the most-watched since 2004, when the game was on broadcast television. You also likely saw that the Skills Competition drew more viewers than any telecast of that event since 2003, and that Friday’s Fantasy Draft did likely some of the best Friday numbers on the VERSUS network ever, aside from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Once I saw those numbers, it got me to thinking why this happened. What got hockey fans more jazzed to see the mid-season exhibition than in years past? I’ve come up with a few potential ideas as to what got 1.5 million people to tune into to see North America’s most star-studded game of shinny.

1. The Fantasy Draft Got People In Early, and Kept Them For the Weekend – The whole weekend might have been for nothing if there weren’t some initial curiosity for the first ever NHL All-Star Game Fantasy Draft, which was for an actual game and not much of a “fantasy” at all, which brought in 624,000 viewers, double VERSUS 2010-11 average to date, and better than all but two of the network’s NHL telecasts this season. It was more than triple the audience for the NHL’s, er, actual Draft in June 2010 (201,000 viewers) and the NHL Awards Show, also in June of 2010 (206,000 viewers). Fact is, hockey fans were starved to see anything catered to them on the desolate Friday between the break and the Skills Competition. Starved enough that they were willing to tune in to something they were maybe a little bit unsure on.

Maybe a lot of them who got into that immediately felt more invested in the weekend as a whole. If you saw the team get picked on Friday, there was more incentive to develop a rooting interest based on who had your favorite players to keep tuning in. Maybe they just tuned in for the initial novelty, but the draft got a good buzz this first time around, so I wouldn’t be shocked if the league tried to hype it up a little bit more and see if there’s even more growth potential for the event in Ottawa next year.

2. People Just Had More of a Rooting Interest – Going along with the theory on the draft, this year gave people a reason to root for their favorite players beyond mere geographical circumstance. Red Wings fans (who turned out pretty well to watch) were clearly curious and vested in a team that was captained by one of this decade’s favorite sons of Hockeytown. Similarly, you have to imagine the ratings in Raleigh were made even better by Hurricane fans having a more unique reason to cheer. It was their boys in addition to the NHL’s best, and it was picked by North Carolina’s most popular current hockey player.

Look at other markets that did well, and they were ones that had players on both sides. Both Chicagoans and Bostonians must’ve seen the clear attraction to having Patrick Sharp and Tim Thomas up against Toews, Kane, Keith and Chara. The All-Star format for 2011 ditched, for once and for all, the phony notion of fans cheering for Conferences or Continents. There’s no pride from either side in representing “your conference”, so why should the fans have any either. This was a chance to root for your favorite individual star, and not the idea something based on geographic pride, which is messed up anyway since Columbus and Detroit are in the “West”.

3. Maybe People Were Just Ready to See the All-Star Game Again? – I mean, why not? 1.5 million hockey fans watching a largely boring offensive showcase that didn’t feature Crosby, Malkin, Zetterberg, Datsyuk and quite a few other members of NHL royalty? It could be possible that leaving the game off the calendar once every for years in exchange for an Olympic tournament is perfect timing. The game just feels like too much of a drag when it must be done every year. When you know there won’t be one in three years, your excitement and anticipation for this and the upcoming ones might possibly grow a little bit more. Perhaps I’m offbase a tad here, but I think NHL fans definitely saw their fondness for this silly game grow a bit in it’s absence. Whatever the reason, it’s reason for people to celebrate the somewhat relevance of the All-Star Game again, but let’s make sure we up the ante for next year.

Top Local Ratings For the All-Star Game

Via Wyshynski:

Detroit – 3.8

Pittsburgh – 3.6

Chicago – 2.8

Raleigh – 2.5

Philly – 2.4

Boston – 2.3