Under 200K Watched Sid The Kid’s Return on Versus. Seriously?

Ken from Fang’s Bites coming over once again to give you some NHL ratings news.

Numbers are in for Versus’ airing of Monday night’s New York Islanders-Pittsburgh Penguins game which marked the return of Sidney Crosby back to the NHL after 10 months following his concussion. PTM Fearless Leader Steve discovers that the viewership numbers nationally were miniscule. Granted, it was up against Monday Night Football on ESPN, the cable ratings killer, but you would think more people would watch. Only an estimated 198,000 viewers?

Granted, the local numbers especially in Pittsburgh were better, but one would expect hockey fans to be interested. Perhaps it was the Islanders not being a national draw, but I thought this would draw higher numbers.

The lesson from all this? It’s best not to have an NHL showcase opposite Monday Night Football on ESPN and Dancing with the Stars on ABC.

NBC Sports Network to Get Back Into Boxing

NEW YORK – November 22, 2011 – NBC Sports Group announced today the formation of NBC Sports Network Fight Night, a boxing series featuring premier boxing talent. Fight Night will debut on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 on the NBC Sports Network (which will be renamed from VERSUS on Jan. 2, 2012), from Asylum Arena in Philadelphia, Pa. The Fight Night cards are being scheduled in cities that are served by a Comcast Sports Group regional network, and the regional networks will help promote the events and have the ability to re-air fights.

NBC Sports Group will work with Main Events and Hall-of-Fame matchmaker J Russell Peltz on a multi-promoter strategy for NBC Sports Network Fight Night designed to produce the best quality fights. It is a strategy in which any promoter can participate to get their boxers involved in these programs.

“This is a unique approach to have multiple promoters competing to put fights on NBC Sports Network,” said Jon Miller, President, programming, NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network. “That, coupled with the legendary matchmaker J Russell Peltz serving as our quality control expert, ensures that boxing fans will enjoy exciting and competitive matches.”

“We are reaching out to all promoters to get involved in the series, and our priority is simply to make exciting fights. We don’t care who brings the fighters,” said Kathy Duva, president, Main Events. “We expect that multiple promoters will be involved in each of the Fight Night programs. All fighters who are willing to further their careers by engaging in compelling, interesting, meaningful matches are welcome.”

“Fights in this series will be solid, competitive and exciting,” said Peltz. “Borrowing the philosophy of the late Madison Square Garden matchmaker Teddy Brenner, my bouts will be made on the following criteria: Do the fighters’ styles mesh to make an exciting fight? Does this fight lead to something? And would I buy a ticket to it? These should be good fights for boxing fans.”

NBC SPORTS NETWORK FIGHT NIGHT SCHEDULE (All Times ET)

Saturday, January 21, 9-11 p.m. – Philadelphia

Saturday, March 24, 10 p.m.-Midnight – Site TBA

Saturday, June 16, 9-11 p.m. – Site TBA

Saturday, December 8, 9-11 p.m. – Site TBA

NBC Prepares For the Thanksgiving Showdown

NEW YORK (November 22, 2011)— A new tradition will begin this year when NBC Sports drops the puck on its NHL coverage earlier than ever with the inaugural 2011 Discover NHL Thanksgiving ShowdownTM on Friday, November 25, at 1 p.m. ET between the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins and the Detroit Red Wings.

This will mark the earliest NHL regular-season broadcast on network television in more than 20 years and the only time these two teams will meet during the regular season. The Friday-after-Thanksgiving matinee is a local Bruins tradition that began in 1990.

“The NHL and NBC have a great partnership and we are always looking for new events to help showcase this sport,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer for NBC Sports and VERSUS. “As a Boston native, I’m excited to take what has turned into a great local tradition – a Bruins game on the Friday after Thanksgiving – and introduce it to national audience by airing it on NBC, and simultaneously starting our broadcast coverage earlier than ever.”

In an effort to provide an even better viewing experience for fans, the inaugural NHL Thanksgiving Showdown will feature a microphone on one of the referees (Kelly Sutherland) to capture on-ice audio for the first time in a regular-season game on NBC.

The team of Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), Eddie Olczyk (analyst) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside the Glass’ analyst) will call the action in Boston. NBC will surround its game coverage with pre-game, intermission and post-game reports live from the arena with studio host Liam McHugh and analyst Mike Milbury.

EMRICK ON THE GAME: “It’s a combination of a terrific present and a glorious past. The Bruins are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and they just ran the table in a five-game home stand for the first time in 25 years. Detroit started the season winning the first five, and put together another streak of four straight wins. The styles contrast. These are the two oldest U.S.-based NHL franchises and two of the most prominent U.S. franchises in winning Stanley Cups. They have been playing each other for 85 years.”

MCGUIRE ON THE GAME: “This game pits two original six teams who have lifted the Cup recently. Both teams have to show urgency for points and because of that need, this has the makings of an early season playoff game.”

VERSUS Cautiously Optimistic, Then Rightfully Excited Upon Crosby’s Wonderful Return

It’s a difficult juggling act in uncharted waters. I solicited the opinion of one broadcaster yesterday whom – besides the return of Mario Lemieux 11 years ago – said that the last time a hockey broadcast was so geared toward the presence of one player’s presence was when ESPN covered Wayne Gretzky breaking the NHL’s goal-scoring record, more than 17 years ago. 48 hours ago, VERSUS play-by-play man Dave Strader was preparing to go to Montreal for a Bruins-Canadiens game. CBC was going to air it’s typical Monday night lineup. That all changed when Sidney Crosby single-handedly became not merely a subplot to the NHL season, but the driving force behind nearly a full day of hockey talk. He was what so few NHL players are at any point in their careers. He was bigger than the sport.

Did he ever justify it, scoring a goal on his second shift, adding another and two assists as the Penguins thrashed the lowly Islanders, 5-0. It might be the rare example of a game that VERSUS viewers (since both NY and Pittsburgh were blacked out for local coverage) likely wanted to see a blowout instead of a hotly contested game. If the Pens were going to run away with it, you want to see Sidney Crosby put up the nutty numbers that have given him a reputation as one of the league’s best players.

As I said earlier, VERSUS had a really difficult juggling act. They had to make Crosby an immense part of the story. He was the only reason they were televising that game. Any coverage of the game had to be done with that caveat in mind. From what I saw (a miscue from somebody meant I got to see up until the end of the first period here in Jersey) the network did an okay job of handling the whole thing. The NHL Live crew – which, when they aren’t talking fighting and headshots, has developed into a pretty decent team this season – were kind of, as my headline suggests, cautiously optimistic about Crosby’s return. You could tell there was a little worry in analysts Mike Milbury in Keith Jones as to how Crosby would handle physical play. Liam McHugh did his best to work a little bit of the Islanders into the show without overtly hinting that Hey, this team sucks and Sid’s been known to put up a ton of points against them.

When we finally got to the game, Dave Strader and Pierre McGuire did a good job of not going too far with Crosby, while still emphasizing his individual importance and ability to fit into the Penguins lineup. The only portion of the telecast I saw that felt a little off was when McGuire simply rattled off silly statistical coincidences that had to do with Crosby and his team’s owner, Mario Lemieux’s number. Otherwise, Strader’s call was solid and neither of them went full-on homer mode when Crosby scored both of his goals. They just seemed dazzled, like anyone else who watched likely was.

A minor complaint: If NHL.com was so all-out last night that they were willing to have reporter Dan Rosen blog every single one of his shifts, could we not have gotten the “Star-cam” that NHL.com and NBCSports.com use for every NHL on NBC game? Seems like if any night would have called for it, this was the one.

In the end, it was a really great moment for a league that needed something buzzworthy that had nothing to do with headshots in the worst way. Some fans may never come to terms with Crosby’s cache with the media and the NHL’s television partners, with the incessant hype and 25-30 network appearances per season that any team he plays for will be granted. But hey, if you were on the fence about it before tonight, the absolutely dominant performance the league’s biggest star put out there last night certainly justified much of it.