SBD/April 22, 2011/Media

Ebersol Plans For NBC/Versus To Go After More Rights After Securing NHL Deal

Ebersol says he is committed to building shoulder programming around NHL
NBC Sports Group Chair Dick Ebersol said the company is "definitely out there looking to add other major sports" after signing a 10-year, $2B deal to keep the NHL on NBC and Versus Tuesday. Appearing on NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s weekly show on Sirius XM Radio, Ebersol noted there are “four of five other places … whose rights will come up" in the next few months that the company will go after. He said, "You can be quite confident you're going to see a much greater range of important sports on Versus in the immediate years to come." Ebersol said there will be a “much greater … commitment to shoulder programming built around” NHL broadcasts on Versus, specifically with pre- and postgame coverage. Ebersol: "I see much more programming that gets much more intimate about the players in the league, about the various things that always excite fans ... and much more of an attempt to be year-round thorough coverage of the sport than has been in the past." He noted the NBC Sports Group will formally announce this summer the Versus name "will change to something close to just that simple phrase, NBC Sports.” Also, Comcast-owned RSNs will be "referred to something like NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBC Sports Chicago, etc., which I think will give viewers everywhere a much better sense of just who we are.” Meanwhile, Ebersol said what is "really important to more and more fans is the expansion of the number of homes that take Versus.” Ebersol: “That's equally as important for us to get into more hotels and more bars and more places where people congregate” (“NHL Hour,” Sirius XM Radio, 4/21).

BACK IN THE GAME
: In Albany, Pete Dougherty writes the NHL's new TV deal shows the league "as a viable player again in the TV landscape." There is "no question Versus ... has improved its hockey coverage." Yet there is "still the perception that a sport needing to resonate with more mainstream sports fans needs [ESPN] to become viable" (Albany TIMES UNION, 4/22). In Detroit, Jamie Samuselsen wrote, "The NHL's new TV deal with Versus and NBC is actually a good thing. Versus takes the sport seriously and dedicates the resources to it that the sport deserves. ESPN treats it like an afterthought and employs a slew of announcers who can’t even pronounce some of the names correctly" (FREEP.com, 4/21). Meanwhile, the GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin reports the NHL's new contract does not include a "discount for the potential loss" of the Coyotes and Thrashers to Canadian markets. Sources indicated that NBC/Versus "has no recourse for compensation" should the Coyotes, Thrashers "or any other troubled franchise decamp." The possibility of "losing Phoenix (No. 12 media market in the U.S.) or Atlanta (No. 7) is an assumed risk in the deal" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/22).
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