SBD/Issue 172/Sports Media

NHLPA Wants TV Partners To Promote Game More; Ratings Still Up

Versus' NHL Conference Finals Telecasts Have
Averaged 1.598M Viewers, Up 24.5% From '08

Versus' five NHL Conference Finals telecasts through Saturday have averaged a 1.4 cable rating and 1.598 million viewers, up 16.7% and 24.5%, respectively, from a 1.2 rating and 1.284 million viewers through their first five Conference Finals telecasts in '08. Versus was the highest-rated ad-supported net on all of cable among males 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54 for Saturday night's Penguins-Hurricanes Eastern Conference Finals Game Three. For 55 total postseason telecasts to date, Versus is averaging 721,000 viewers, up 32.1% from 546,000 viewers for 46 games through the same point last year (THE DAILY). SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Liz Mullen reports NHLPA Exec Dir Paul Kelly is "calling for league TV partners Versus and NBC to do more to promote the NHL and NHL players, citing players' growing frustration over hockey coverage." Kelly said that the fact that Game Seven of the Hurricanes-Bruins Eastern Conference Semifinal series did not air nationally until the conclusion of Game Seven of the Red Wings-Ducks Western Conference Semifinal series is a "'source of great frustration' to NHL players as well as the union." Kelly said of Versus, "It is not ESPN. It doesn't have a sports highlight show. It doesn't have a lot of properties people want to tune in to, unless you are a hunter or a fisherman or you like turtle wrestling" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 5/25 issue). Blackhawks Chair Rocky Wirtz said the one change he would make if he were NHL Commissioner would be to "find a way to get NHL games back on ESPN" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 5/24). In Miami, George Richards wrote recently fired Flames coach Mike Keenan "sure could add some spice to [Versus'] bland production." Richards: "If I'm Versus, I have already put in a call" (MIAMIHERALD.com, 5/22).

WHY LEAVE? In this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, John Ourand writes under the header,"With Treatment It's Getting On Versus, Why Would NHL Leave?" The NHL's cable TV contract with Versus expires after the '10-11 season, and the league's ultimate decision "will come down to money." Ourand: "All things being equal, I think the league should stay with Versus." The common thread from people "bashing the Versus deal ... is that ESPN has a greater ability to expand the sport." However, some hockey execs "should temper their expectations" about a return to ESPN. Ourand: "I'm skeptical that ESPN would give as much focus or care to the NHL as Versus currently does. ... The NHL is the biggest sports property on Versus, and the network treats it as such" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 5/25 issue).

Should NHL Cater Schedule
To Comply With NBC's Wants?
AT THEIR MERCY: In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote it would be one thing for the NHL to "bend over for a television network from which it receives massive rights fees, ... but genuflecting for NBC, whose deal nets approximately $100,000 per team -- is a scandal that demands inspection." Scheduled gaps during the conference finals have "derailed the momentum that followed the first two terrific rounds," while the scheduling of back-to-back games to open the Stanley Cup Finals, with a potential Game Seven "apparently set for June 16, is an absurdity." Brooks: "What strange form of obedience is it, exactly, that has prompted commissioner Gary Bettman to destroy the NHL's playoff scheduling in order to satisfy NBC's whims?" (N.Y. POST, 5/24). In Vancouver, Cam Cole wrote every time one thinks the NHL "can't possibly sink any lower in its subservience to the great god Television," the league "gives us fresh evidence that there is still plenty of grovelling room in the sub-basement" (VANCOUVER SUN, 5/23).

NORTH OF THE BORDER: TSN through 36 telecasts of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is averaging a record 651,000 viewers, up 35% from 482,000 average viewers last season. TSN2 aired five additional playoff games (TSN). In Toronto, Chris Zelkovich noted the first weekend of the CBC's coverage of the conference finals produced audiences that "didn't even match the average for a regular-season Saturday night." Ratings in Canada typically "decrease until the final ... as long as there's no Canadian team involved," but there is "hope for solid ratings" for the Stanley Cup Finals. Zelkovich: "The thought of the kind of hockey that could be produced in a Detroit-Pittsburgh series should have hockey fans salivating, or at least breathing heavily" (THESTAR.com, 5/26).

NEW HOME FOR HOCKEY? The GLOBE & MAIL's Roy MacGregor wrote, "I have to count myself among those saying this spring that TSN has outscored" the CBC's "Hockey Night In Canada." MacGregor: "This is said in part to compliment the growth of TSN in hockey." TSN play-by-play announcer Gord Miller has "grown nicely into the job," while analyst Pierre McGuire is "enthusiastic, has turned his between-the-benches stunt into industry standard and -- most significantly -- sees the game through 21st century eyes." MacGregor wrote that is "not said in order to slag 'Hockey Night in Canada' -- merely to beg the CBC to take it into the same century in which the rest of us live" (GLOBEANDMAIL.com, 5/26). Meanwhile, GLOBESPORTS.com's Bruce Dowbiggin noted CBC analysts were "almost apoplectic" after the hit from Red Wings D Niklas Kronwall briefly knocked out Blackhawks RW Martin Havlat during Game Three of their Western Conferene Finals series. Kronwall was given a major penalty and a game misconduct, and the reaction from the CBC's studio panel of Kelly Hrudey, Mike Milbury and P.J. Stock was "livid." Dowbiggin: "That Kronwall's hit was a 'hockey play' was never in doubt." Milbury, as video of Kronwall hitting Havlat was shown, said, "They should put [referees Dan O'Halloran and Dave Jackson] on a bus tomorrow morning, get them out of the playoffs" (GLOBESPORTS.com, 5/25).

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