With NBC Makeover, VERSUS NHL Coverage Has Never Looked Better

For all intents and purposes, the NHL on VERSUS is dead.

Oh sure, that cursory VERSUS logo that you see at the top of the post is on the top left-hand corner of the scoreboard graphic, and the studio color scheme remains largely VERSUS’ red and black, and the channel is still called VERSUS on your channel listing, but that is beside the point. The NHL on VERSUS no longer exists. The folks at NBC Sports Group – whom run both NBC and VERSUS – would like you to believe you are watching The NHL on NBC on VERSUS, kind of like how you’re always watch ESPN on ABC, but in reverse.

The NHL on VERSUS used 100% NHL on NBC graphics, aside from the VERSUS logo appearing once in a while. There were even promos for the new NBC dramas Prime Suspect (which was awkwardly airing at the same time, Thursday at 10 p.m. ET, as the games that were promoting it) and Grimm on the boards. It was the NBC innovation of Inside the Glass, which had never been used when VERSUS was separate from the NBC Sports Group. The name NBC Sports Network won’t be official until January 2nd, but we all pretty much know what it’ll look like when it does.

Which isn’t a problem, because if the opening night doubleheader is to be believed, The NHL on VERSUS is probably the best it has ever been, as we enter the NHL’s seventh season with the network, throughout multiple names and graphic changes. Everything is much more professional, graphics are cleaner and tighter, and the presentation just feels a little bit grander, as if the network has found a way to try and present these games as more important. NBC was aces on Thursday night, letting everyone know that the change (from VERSUS to NBCSN) will be for the better.

Let’s start off in the studio: people may not like Mike Milbury, but there isn’t the forced, nonsensical banter between Mad Mike and Keith Jones that there was between Jones and Brian Engblom, who has found a much more useful slot inside the glass (more on that later). Liam McHugh, who pretty much hosts everything on VERSUS (between the NHL and college football, McHugh will log about 17 hours of studio time with the network this week), is solid and dependable and showing off why VERSUS has him hosting pretty much everything. He and Milbury and Jones keep it very light and business-like. You know, there’s room for opinion, but it’s just hockey and we’re just passing your time between games, it isn’t life and death. It is a difficult vibe to explain, but I enjoyed it.

The less said about the actual content of the Bruins gaudy overkill of a banner-raising, the better, but VERSUS did a solid job of getting that across to viewers in all of it’s unholy ridiculousness. Banner ceremonies can be troublesome for national networks because it isn’t necessarily interesting to non-homer fans, and especially not to the road fans, but VERSUS stuck to their guns and did essentially a public service for Bostoners, who likely needed it to bust them from their Red Sox-induced stupor. The presentation of the anthems seemed to be something VERSUS was championing that they were going to air, and I think that it is something that hockey fans enjoy before big events. Honestly, though, we can just skip it when we’re in mid-January.

The broadcast teams are a little bit of everything. I still think that either Eddie Olczyk or Pierre McGuire should be cut out of that three-man booth during the regular season, perhaps reuniting them for the playoffs (Something VERSUS will do on Monday nights, more likely due to Eddie Olczyk’s Chicago Blackhawks commitments than anything else). It just sounds like too many cooks in the kitchen at times. Olczyk and McGuire are both solid, despite the ire they seem to draw from viewers. However, you already have Mike Emrick, who is extremely verbose, calling the games, so it’d simply give the broadcast more room to breathe just going with a one-up, one-down or a two-man booth.

Take, for example, Dave Strader and Brian Engblom’s call of the late game in Vancouver between the Penguins and Canucks. Neither man had to speak quickly to get their opinion in, and overall the telecast felt a little easier going. This is not a critique of any of the broadcasters working either game, just of the different formats they were forced into.

Overall, I felt NBC did a great job in demonstrating their commitment to hockey. From the fantastic, heavy metal-set opening in the studio, to the fact that the network was actually buying advertising to promote it’s new fall programs on the sideboards (how did no network think to do this before?). Plus, you had NBC Sports Talk, which has a likable host in Russ Thaler but hasn’t quite found a groove yet, previewing everything a half-hour before. I’d bet hockey fans will start to feel more and more like they can turn to VERSUS for that show if they promise to talk hockey, rather than being frustrated by SportsCenter or a regional sports network. Opening night showed off how far VERSUS has come under the NBC Sports Group umbrella, and it appears to be a long way, indeed.

9 Responses to With NBC Makeover, VERSUS NHL Coverage Has Never Looked Better

  1. Stephen says:

    Great article you wrote. I saw the intro with the heavy metal music and I was pump up for hockey season to start. Great work from NBC as well which ABC and ESPN never did when they had the rights.

    Also, watching the game, seeing the ads of NBC shows of Prime Suspect (favorite show), and the new show Grimm that’s coming up in couple of days this month was a great idea to add during the game on the boards where the road and home team benches were. I really think will see more of the adds being on there throughout the season like Up All Night, The Biggest Loser, Whitney, Law and Order: SVU, and Harry’s Law and more shows that I didn’t mention yet. But will see them on the player’s benches during the rest of the season.

    Trust me, Hockey fans for sure will be turning to NBC Sports Talk to talk about Hockey as the season starts. Not like SportsCenter who doesn’t even talk about hockey.

    I believe with the season here and began, NBC will be a big competitor against ESPN.

    So ESPN, you better have eyes on the back of your head, because NBC is on the horizon to become the next World Wide Leader in Sports.

    Great job from NBC/VERSUS on their NHL coverage and the studios as well with the NBC Sports Graphics as well.

  2. Paranoidpuck says:

    Agree that the presentation was much better although I watched CBC most of the night.

    A quick note, NBC didn’t buy those dasher ads. Its in their contract. US National games have always used different dasher ads. TV and league sponsors get special placement. Its been that way since Fox got had the rights.
    The only difference this season is that
    1-the Van game was based in Canada. Previously, the US nets had zero control over the dasher ads there.
    2-the dasher ads were changed for cable. Previously it was only during over the air telecasts.
    3-NBC always promoted nbcsports.com on their dasher allotments. This time around, they are promoting shows.

  3. I thought the way they had the graphics was incredibly inconsistent… It was Versus branding in some places and just “NHL on NBC” in other places. It’d be nice if they made it one single name. I don’t see why they couldn’t have gone ahead and ditched the Versus name and just went ahead and changed it over to NBCSN before last night.

    That said it looks nice, my only complaint is the scorebug. NBCs scorebug is terrible and the one Versus had took up hardly any room, really as small as it’s going to get. It was perfect. That shading above the one NBC has annoys the living crap out of me.

    • nosferatu says:

      Agreed, I just can’t get used to the scorebug and the tinted screen above it. Put on the game from Sweden and boom, there it is, annoyingly noticeable.

      Small thing in the grand scheme of a solid production, but it is annoying and could easily be better.

  4. A Moose says:

    I’m gonna take it another step and call for the graphic package to be used on the CSN regional feeds in Philly, DC, Chicago ( Id mention Cali, but the Sharks are dead to me after the refusal to produce an It Gets better video. No time, cmon the President made one) Anyway I digress.

    I enjoyed the coverage, agree that three people can be cumbersome at times. I think its that Olcyzk and Mc Guire have “large personalities” . It works in Philadelphia with Jim Jackson, Keith Jones/Bill Clement and Steve Coates. Jones/Clement seem a bit more mellow and Coatesy is the frenetic one.

    I only saw the first game and just a bit of that due to my bedtime and the fact that Versus/NBCSN didn’t put a leash on the Bruins and let than go on and on and on. I was confused when I put it on again to see if the game actually started, I thought the Bruins had won the Cup again the way they carried on.

  5. Rough photoshop job of what I’m talking about: http://ncsu1.com/images/nbcscore.png

    Why can’t it float in the middle of the screen?

  6. TiLoBrown says:

    I never noticed it until last night, but I like the VS scoreboard so much better than the NBC one

  7. dyhrdmet says:

    my only thought after watching a few minutes on Thursday night is that NBC Sports in general is due for new graphics (it might be the oldest graphics package in sports dating back to the return of the NFL on NBC 5 years ago), and I kind of liked what Versus had most recently used last Spring.

    And I’m not a huge fan of the 3 man booth in hockey with so much action even though one man is between the benches.

  8. Arthur says:

    Figure it out people. Along with a re-branding comes a new graphics package. The rebranding comes in January. That is when the new look for NBCSN will happen

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