Your Announcers and Open Thread For Night Seven of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Game 4: Vancouver vs. Chicago, 8:00 PM ET

National TV (US): VERSUS (HD)
Play by Play: Dave Strader
Color: Daryl Reaugh
Inside the Glass: Darren Eliot

National TV (Canada): CBC (HD)
Play by Play: Jim Hughson
Color: Craig Simpson
Reporter: Scott Oake

Game 3: San Jose vs. Los Angeles

National TV (US): VERSUS (HD)

National TV (Canada): TSN (HD)
Play by Play: Gord Miller
Inside the Glass: Ray Ferraro

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Hockey Fans Win More Than Anybody Else In New NHL/Comcast Mega-Deal

Everyone should be satisfied.

Gary Bettman should feel good about himself today. As many have pointed out, he took a property that was worth a paltry $70-80 million per year in 2005 coming out of the lockout, and worth nothing to broadcast television, and turned it into a $200 million-per year, broadcast inclusive, multimedia mega-deal in six years. Now, one could point out that he also took it from being worth $150 million to ESPN/ABC in 1999 to practically worthless in 6 years because of a lockout, but we’ll stay positive today. Commissioner Bettman should feel great validation in his faith in Comcast and what eventually became VERSUS today.

Another thing he’ll win is better playoff coverage. I’ve whined about the inability for the NHL to get all of it’s playoff games on national television for quite some time now, but that ends starting next year (and even, to some extent, this year, with VERSUS/NBC airing a quadruple-header Saturday). Every playoff game will have a national, cable or broadcast network home. That puts the NHL on even footing with the NBA as far as coverage. Also putting them on even footing is getting every playoff game from the Conference Semifinals on an exclusive broadcast. It provides automatic national ratings growth for that round, which had previously only seen two games per series on an exclusive basis.

Dick Ebersol has reasons to be satisfied with this as well. He can go back to worrying about the Olympics and the NFL lockout now. It’s one more headache gone, and he’s set up his broadcast network with an additional major league should a lockout decrease the ratings power of the football. He’s also set up his company’s cable network with at least 270 hours of programming (not including pre- and post-game) from October-April with 90 exclusive NHL games (no more “bonus telecasts”) on whatever VERSUS will be re-named within three months. That doesn’t even include the playoffs, which will now be broadcast across multiple networks of NBC/Comcast. Both of the major parties should be happy with this.

Again, NBC gets a chance to grow their sports department with this. The Thanksgiving Friday game NBC will air is the earliest an NHL game has ever been on broadcast television, and don’t doubt that NBC will make a big deal about it. Sure, it will likely involve the big seven or eight NBC favorites, but it continues to branch out hockey ‘s exposure beyond the typical. Hockey Day in America will return, and be sure that the event will increase in hours and coverage next year. Hockey fits in well with their network demographic (18-49 males, and particularly 18-34 males) and with their brand. With VERSUS along for the ride, they needed this as much as the NHL did.

But the biggest winner in all of this, and the one most deserving of a victory in all of this, is the hockey fan. You will now be served with the most NHL games on national television in more than a decade, and on a network that truly cares about them. You will no longer have to shell out $150 a year just to see every playoff game. That will seem absurd to you in a couple of years, that you even did in the past. In fact, Center Ice might become unnecessary to you now that there’s 100 games on national television every year. Just by the increase in games, you’ll be able to see more teams on a regular basis and just be saturated with hockey programming more hours per day.

You’ll see the NHL Network improve, too. NBC Sports Group has committed to building the NHL Net a studio in VERSUS’ home of Stamford, CT. Having the NHL Network complete it’s new look with a brand new studio and likely, a more American personality to it will likely improve that network. In 2006, the average hockey fan had about 7-10 hours a week of national coverage, and that’s if NBC was airing a game. Now, with NHL Network airing On the Fly in America every night for six hours of live stuff, VERSUS being on three nights a week at least, and NBC returning for many weeks, hockey fans can expect a minimum of 50-60 hours per week of games and studio shows.

So cheer a little louder today, puckheads. You’ve been told for years by TV execs, commentators, pundits and others who just don’t get it that your sport is inferior, less telegenic, that nobody cares. With this deal, the NHL, NBC and Comcast have committed to each other, and they’ve committed to you, to show that our sport is worth the limelight that we shine on it night after night. The more and more I think about this deal, the word “commitment” seems about right. Because it cements a commitment between everyone in the world of hockey. All in one place. Enough worrying about this, let’s go watch some hockey.

VERSUS To Air Game 5 of Lightning/Penguins Saturday At Noon As Part of NHL Quadruple-headerot

Via the NHL:

NEW YORK (April 19, 2011) – A starting time has been assigned to the Saturday, April 23rd Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh game on the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Conference Quarterfinals schedule. The start time of the game previously listed as “to be determined” has been set to 12:00 Noon local/12:00 Noon ET.

Your NHL schedule for Saturday:

12:00 Tampa Bay vs. Pittsburgh, Game 5 (VERSUS/CBC)
3:00
NY Rangers vs. Washington, Game 5 (NBC/TSN)
7:00
Montreal vs. Boston, Game 5 (VERSUS/CBC)
10:00
Los Angeles vs. San Jose, Game 5 (VERSUS/TSN)

Not to over-hype it, but this is the future, everyone. It also gets rid of a potential CBC conflict.

Live Updates on the NHL, NBC Call

Any immediate information will be updated in this post.

UPDATE: VERSUS will be re-named within 90 days, according to Dick Ebersol.

Every playoff game from the Conference Semi-finals on will be on NBC and VERSUS.

Every playoff game period will be on either NBC, VERSUS or another NBC/Comcast channel, so every playoff game will air nationally.

VERSUS will air 90 exclusive games next year. They aired 77 total last year, but 25 were bonus games. This will be 90 games airing exclusively in home markets.

The deal is through the 2020-21 season.

The call is over, we’ll have more later.

Here’s the NHL’s press release:

NEW YORK (April 19, 2011) – The National Hockey League and the NBC Sports Group have reached agreement on a landmark 10-year television and media rights deal, taking the partnership through the 2020-21 season. The expanded partnership, under which NBC remains the exclusive network home and VERSUS the exclusive cable home of the NHL® in the U.S., is highlighted by the first-ever national distribution of all Stanley Cup® Playoffs contests, including, for the first time, exclusive coverage starting with the Conference Semifinals. The agreement also calls for the NBC Sports Group to televise 100 regular season games per year and introduces a national NBC broadcast on Thanksgiving Friday. The announcement was made today by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Sports Group.

According to the agreement, the NBC Sports Group obtains digital rights across all platforms and devices for the games it televises. In the regular season, NBC will continue to broadcast a national “Game of the Week,” along with its coverage of the NHL Winter Classic® and “Hockey Day in America.” VERSUS also will telecast an exclusive national “Game of the Week,” as well as NHL Premiere™ Games, NHL Faceoff™, the NHL All-Star Game and any future NHL Heritage Classic™ outdoor games in Canada. NBC and VERSUS remain the exclusive home of the Stanley Cup Final. The NBC Sports Group’s commitment includes building a new studio for NHL Network™ at its existing facility Stamford, Conn.

“This is the most significant U.S. media rights partnership in the League’s history,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “NBC Universal / Comcast is one of the most important, connected and ‘wired’ media companies in the U.S., and as the potential of the NBC Sports Group is realized, the importance of our relationship will become more apparent to hockey fans and our business partners.

“NBC Sports and Comcast have been fantastic partners. They have provided incredible coverage of our sport and have teamed with us to deliver the best TV viewership figures in three decades. It is a credit to our players, our great game and our outstanding fans that Brian Roberts, Steve Burke, Dick Ebersol and their teams would make a commitment of this scale. We also know the best is yet to come.”

“We have significantly increased the value of the NBC Sports Group with this unprecedented, 10-year agreement with the National Hockey League,” said Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Sports Group. “What’s particularly exciting for us is not only the significant increase in regular season games, but the reality of a dream that every single playoff game will air on an NBC Sports Group platform. For the first time, the Conference Semifinal round will be exclusive on VERSUS with a 200 percent increase in games. In the regular season, we’re increasing VERSUS’ coverage from roughly 50 to 90 games.

“I cannot understate the importance of Gary Bettman’s leadership. He understands the scope and the promotional ability of not only our new NBC Sports Group, but of the new NBCUniversal under Comcast’s ownership. The NHL has been and will continue to be one of our cornerstone properties.”

The NHL’s partnerships with both NBC Sports and VERSUS launched for the 2005-06 season and the six-year relationship has produced many ratings milestones. Among them:

· Overall NHL television ratings in the United States have increased by 84 percent over the last four years

· The 2011 NHL Winter Classic on NBC was the most-watched regular season game in the U.S. in 36 years

· VERSUS’ 2011 regular season viewership was the network’s best ever, up 17 percent over last season

· The 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs saw the largest audience in the history of the sport, with Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on NBC the most-watched NHL game in the U.S. in 36 years

· The 2010 Playoffs on VERSUS were the most watched on U.S. cable in eight years, while the first two rounds were the most watched on cable on record.

· Just last week, VERSUS achieved its best opening night viewership in its six years of Stanley Cup Playoffs coverage

The agreement between the NHL and the NBC Sports Group includes targeted promotion across the combined Comcast/NBCUniversal company which, since the merger, consists of 20 television networks and more than 40 digital platforms. VERSUS, which was in 64 million homes in 2005, is now in more than 79 million homes and is on course for further expansion of its distribution. The combined promotional muscle has already led to increased ratings for events such as the NHL Winter Classic, NHL Heritage Classic and Hockey Day in America.

Over the last five years, the NHL has grown TV ratings, substantially increased sponsorship and advertising revenue through partnerships with blue chip companies, built a robust digital business and created a year-round calendar of big events including the NHL Winter Classic, all while receiving numerous industry awards and media accolades. The League for the 2010-11 season is on pace to once again set a record for total revenue despite the challenging economy, surpassing $2.9 billion overall.

NBC, VERSUS To Renew At 10 Years, $2 Billion, 100 Games Each Season

From John Ourand at Sports Business Daily:

NBC and Versus have signed a 10-year, $2B deal to renew the NHL’s TV rights. Fox took a preliminary look at the package but never made a bid, and Turner pulled out of the bidding last week, saying it could not find a business model to support the money NBC and Versus are paying the NHL. ESPN said it had “constructive conversations” with the NHL, “offering them the opportunity for unprecedented distribution of every game of the Stanley Cup playoffs on ESPN platforms, including authentication to broadband and mobile devices.” ESPN had committed to carry one regular-season game per week. But sources said the NHL never came back to ESPN with a final bid. ESPN remained involved in the bidding process until the end. But sources said it was too difficult for the NHL and ESPN to work around NBC and Versus’ matching rights. The deal will see NBC and Versus carry all Stanley Cup playoff games nationally, with the conference semis appearing exclusively on the two nets. It also will see NBC and Versus televise 100 regular-season games, including a new Thanksgiving Friday telecast on NBC. The agreement includes all digital rights for the games NBC and Versus televise. NBC has committed to a national “Game of the Week” and Winter Classic, and Versus will televise a national “Game of the Week,” plus the All-Star Game, NHL Premiere Games, NHL Faceoff and any future NHL Heritage Classic games in Canada. NBC and Versus will continue to share the rights to the Stanley Cup Final. As part of the deal, NBC Sports Group agreed to build a new studio for NHL Network in Stamford, Conn.

NHL and NBC To Make Major Announcement at 1:00 PM ET

I think we all know what’s happening here. I’ll have a post up at 1:00 PM ET with live coverage of the call.

Also, we’ll post some of the stories that have been rumored to be the terms of the deal (10 years, $2 Billion) later.

VERSUS May Need To Make Some Changes Due To Sweeps

You can’t blame VERSUS for picking Phoenix/Detroit and Vancouver/Chicago as it’s main series of focus from the Western Conference – or at least the ones that got an original broadcast – in the first round. Detroit has a following the extends around the country, plus they were in a re-match with a Phoenix team that took them to seven last year. Chicago are last year’s champions, therefore an immediate storyline in the playoffs. They were good calls.

That said, they are both – more than likely – going to end in sweeps. I mean, perhaps Chicago will force it to a Game 5, but I honestly don’t think Phoenix will put anything together in Game 4 after their performance last night. So, VERSUS will need to make some scheduling adjustments, starting with Thursday and Friday, on which Game 5 of both series was scheduled to air. Here was the original picture:

Thursday, April 21
7:00
Boston vs. Montreal, Game 4
10:00 Chicago vs. Vancouver, Game 5 (if necessary)

Friday, April 22
7:00 Phoenix vs. Detroit, Game 5 (if necessary)
10:00 Nashville vs. Anaheim, Game 5

Now, if both those series end in sweeps, here’s what we shall likely see later in the week:

Thursday, April 21
7:00
Boston vs. Montreal, Game 4
10:30 San Jose vs. Los Angeles, Game 4

Friday, April 22
7:30
Buffalo vs. Philadelphia, Game 5
10:00 Nashville vs. Anaheim, Game 5

VERSUS will typically pick up any replacement game available so they don’t waste a timeslot. That is one of the few benefits of being with one network. That network can simply replace any series after it ends with another, without viewers missing any hockey. It’s sort of consolation. In the end, sometimes you get really good opening rounds, sometimes you don’t. For VERSUS, they’ll likely want to just hope their selection for the Conference Semifinals goes better.