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SBJ/January 29 - February 4, 2007/This Weeks News
NHL-Versus relationship looks smooth as ice
Published January 29, 2007
On Tuesday at the NHL’s board of governors meeting in Dallas, Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the league’s future on television. His talk didn’t even last five minutes.
The NHL will be on Versus next year, and for three years after that.
That revelation isn’t surprising considering the six-year deal the two signed in the summer of 2005. Since then, the network has met its distribution benchmarks, increasing its number of homes by 8 million, putting it in 71 million homes at the start of the year, meaning the NHL can’t get out of the deal even if it wanted to. And though Versus can opt out after its third year, the network has no intention of doing so.
That news should put to rest rumors of discord. In fact, the NHL and Versus seemed to have their official coming-out party last week in Dallas, at the league’s first All-Star Game in three years.
By all appearances, the two are getting along just fine.
“This was the key point in our partnership so far,” said John Shannon, NHL executive vice president of broadcasting.
NHL and network executives considered last week’s All-Star Game to be as important as the Stanley Cup playoffs — even more so from a marketing standpoint. With several months — and a multimillion-dollar budget — to prepare for the All-Star Game, the two combined to launch their most extensive advertising and promotional campaign, against a backdrop of national criticism from commentators who complained about everything from finding the channel to staging an All-Star Game midweek.
“We have three times when we can come out and make a statement: opening night, the All-Star Game and the playoffs,” said Bill Bergofin, Versus’ senior vice president of marketing and promotion.
Versus ran a multimillion-dollar ad campaign around the game on TV, print and radio. Versus’ parent, Comcast, is contracted to spend $20 million worth of promotion per year on the league, according to the deal signed in 2005.
“We came on board knowing that we had to make hockey one of our major tent poles,” Bergofin said. “We’ve done that.”
The importance of hockey to Versus was underscored by the presence of Jeff Shell, president of Comcast’s programming group, and, in particular, network president Gavin Harvey. Harvey had an emergency appendectomy less than a week before and traveled to Dallas against his doctor’s wishes.
Sitting in the Versus production truck in the minutes before the game, Harvey was in good spirits, thanks in large part to the 0.4 overnight rating from the Tuesday night SuperSkills competition.