SBD/Issue 151/Sports Media

NHL Hopes Ratings Growth Will Boost Future NBC, Versus Talks

NHL Has Seen "Modest Rebound" In
U.S. Ratings During Regular Season

A "modest rebound" in U.S. ratings during the regular season has the NHL "grooming Madison Avenue to help goose current TV deals with NBC and Versus, which are up for renegotiation next year," according to Etan Vlessing of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. NHL COO John Collins said that the league is "expanding its digital media strategy and big event programming lineup to make pro hockey more appealing to advertisers." The hope is that "off-ice buzz from fans will help the league's cause with NBC and Versus during TV contract talks" after June '11. NBC averaged a 0.9 rating for its NHL "Game of the Week" telecasts this season, up 13% from a 0.8 rating last year. Meanwhile, ratings on Versus "were a slow build this year until March when the sports channel returned to DirecTV programming packages after a long blackout due to a carriage dispute with the satellite provider." But Versus averaged 365,000 viewers for its NHL telecasts during the final four weeks of the NHL regular season, up 28% from the same period last year. NHL ratings in Canada "were more impressive" this season. The increases have "much to do with the quality of hockey play, and the game remains always in Canada's DNA." But Collins insisted that the "bigger jolt the league received this year came from corporate." Collins: "We're building an advertising marketplace that never existed before. If we're successful at doing that, that will affect the incremental revenue, plus all these other digital platforms, that will raise the tide of our national rights fees and make us a more valuable partner" (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 4/20).

HOME-ICE ADVANTAGE: Versus President Jamie Davis was asked if he is confident the network can "keep the NHL around," to which he said the league "couldn't be happier with the way we super-serve fans." Davis: "There is no one else that willing to do that for the NHL. We do double, triple, maybe even quadruple what they had previously. For the next six weeks, we are going to have hockey basically every single night. Some nights we'll have three or four games on. ... We are delivering a good deal better than what anybody else can" (, 4/19). Meanwhile, Blackhawks Owner Rocky Wirtz said he was glad to see DirecTV and Versus settle their carriage dispute before the start of the playoffs. Wirtz: "The bad news is they're on Versus. The good news is at least they made their bed with DirecTV, especially with so many bars (that) have DirecTV because of the football package." Wirtz said he hopes the league can leverage the success of the Vancouver Games "and make a better deal by having more games for more people to view on a much broader basis." Wirtz: "Would you ever think you'd talk about a Wirtz complaining about not enough games on TV?” (, 4/19).

LOCAL LOVE: FSN Pittsburgh Sunday drew its highest single-day viewership thanks to coverage of Reds-Pirates and Penguins-Senators Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Game Three. The Pirates swept the Reds in a three-game series, and Sunday's final game drew a 6.21 local rating and more than 178,500 viewers in Pittsburgh, marking the highest-rated Pirates afternoon game in six years on the network. Meanwhile, Sunday night's Penguins-Senators Game Three, which the Penguins won to take a 2-1 series lead, earned a 21.6 local rating and about 619,850 viewers in the market, marking the third highest-rated Penguins playoff game ever on the network (FSN Pittsburgh)....Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia earned a 6.8 local rating for Sunday's Devils-Flyers Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Game Three, marking the highest-rated Flyers playoff game since Flyers-Capitals Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Game Seven in April '08 (CSN).

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