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NHL on Versus

NHL on Versus
Country of origin United States
Running time 150 minutes or until game ends
Original channel Versus (2006–2011)
Picture format 480i (SDTV),
1080i (HDTV)
Original release October 5, 2005 (October 5, 2005) – June 8, 2011 (June 8, 2011)
External links

The NHL on Versus was a presentation of National Hockey League (NHL) games broadcast on Versus. Versus became the NHL's cable partner in the United States beginning in the 2005–06 season from previous partner ESPN, providing coverage of regular season games, playoff games, and select games from the Stanley Cup Finals.

Before the beginning of the 2011–12 season, Comcast—the owners of Versus—acquired a majority stake in NBC Universal, the parent company of the NBC and the NHL's current American broadcast television partner. As a result of this merger and the impending relaunch of Versus as the NBC Sports Network in 2012, all NHL telecasts on Versus were re-branded under the NHL on NBC name beginning with the 2011–12 season.


  • History 1
  • Coverage 2
    • The "Game of the Week" 2.1
    • Hockey Central and NHL Live 2.2
    • Playoff coverage 2.3
  • Personalities 3
  • Ratings 4
    • 2005–06 4.1
    • 2006–07 4.2
    • 2007–08 4.3
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The NHL on OLN logo, used until the switch of the network's name to Versus.

The NHL's television deal with Versus was made at the conclusion of the 2004–05 NHL lockout that caused the cancellation of an entire season. At the time, Versus offered a two-year, US$130 million contract (with a network option for a third year) that delivered guaranteed money for Commissioner Gary Bettman (ESPN, which previously held the rights and broadcast games on ESPN National Hockey Night, wanted a revenue-sharing deal similar to NBC's). Versus was expected to use NHL coverage to show it was a legitimate suitor for Major League Baseball and National Football League packages that were to be negotiated later in 2005, but they did not land agreements with either league. In 2007, the NHL signed an agreement to extend the NHL on Versus to the 2010–2011 season. Versus paid $72.5 million for 2007–2008 and will pay inflationary increases over the next three years.

In January 2011, Comcast officially acquired NBC Universal, and then in April of that year the league negotiated a new 10-year deal with the merged media company, worth nearly $2 billion. Comcast/NBC also announced that Versus would become NBC Sports Network, and both the cable channel and NBC would increase its number of games.[1] Under this contract, NBC Sports Network usually airs at least two regular season games per week, while the main NBC broadcast network airs afternoon games on selected weekends. Coverage of the playoffs and the Finals is split between the two networks, with some first round games also being shown on another cable channel owned by NBC Universal.

In April 2011, NBC Sports and Versus announced they had reached a ten-year extension to the television contract with the National Hockey League worth nearly 2 billion dollars over the life of the contract. The new contract takes advantage of the recent NBC-Comcast merger, which unified the two NHL broadcasters under the same ownership.[2]

As a consequence of its impending re-branding as NBC Sports Network all NHL coverage on Versus was re-branded as NHL on NBC beginning at the start of the 2011-12 season.


The network broadcasts at least 54 games during the regular season (usually two games per week, sometimes three or just one), plus the All-Star Game, Skills Competition, and YoungStars game.

At the end of the year, the network has blanket coverage of the playoffs, culminating in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals. Versus also shows the NHL Awards Show and first round of the NHL Draft.

Versus schedules a few doubleheaders during the regular season (consisting of a game in the Eastern Time Zone or Central Time Zone, and then a Mountain or Pacific Time Zone game). Playoff coverage usually involves doubleheaders throughout the first two rounds, except weekends prior to 2007–08, when NBC often televised multiple games during its broadcast windows.

Under the terms of the contract running from 20072011, Versus aired 54 or more NHL games each season, generally on Monday and Tuesday nights, and provided coverage of as many Stanley Cup Playoff games as possible (generally two per night in the first two rounds; the Conference Finals are usually played on alternating days), and two games of the Stanley Cup Finals (Games 3 and 4 in 2009, 2010 and 2011).

On April 19, 2011, the league and NBC/Versus announced a new ten-year agreement. Beginning with the 2011–12 season, Versus will now air 90 regular season telecasts (expanding its coverage on Wednesdays in the process), air any future Heritage Classic games, all Stanley Cup Playoff games will be aired nationally on a NBC Sports channel, while the soon-to-be-renamed NBC Sports Network has exclusive television rights to Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals.[3] Additionally, at the beginning of 2012, Versus will be re-branded as the NBC Sports Network.[4] Accordingly, Versus began using the NBC Sports graphics (as well as the NHL on NBC theme music) for its NHL coverage in Fall 2011. The final NHL event aired under the Versus banner was the alumni game between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers on December 31, preceding the 2012 NHL Winter Classic.

The "Game of the Week"

Included in the schedule is a "Game of the Week" for selected dates. In this "Exclusive" time period, which was created in 2006–07, no other National Hockey League game may be broadcast involving a team based in the United States and, in most cases, no other game is scheduled unless it involves two Canadian teams. Regional carriers are allowed to air games outside Versus' exclusive window.

Like NBC, games aired on The NHL on Versus usually feature teams based in the United States, with the exception of playoffs. As previously mentioned, for the first two playoff rounds, Versus will occasionally simulcast TSN or CBC feeds depending on the schedule and match-ups, although it has made a commitment to offering its own production in most cases.

The selection of teams for The NHL on Versus is somewhat more diverse (possibly because there are more game slots to air) than its broadcast partner, NBC. Because of inordinately high ratings in the Buffalo and Pittsburgh markets, Versus has made note to air a significant number of games featuring the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins. Traditionally ratings-friendly teams such as the New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, and Boston Bruins, along with the Comcast-owned Philadelphia Flyers, also get selected regularly, frequently at or near the maximum of nine appearances per team during the regular season.

Any regular season game selected by Versus airs exclusively on that network, which has caused controversy due to the relative lack of availability of Versus compared to other channels like ESPN (a similar situation developed with Thursday Night Football on the NFL Network, but unlike the NHL games on Versus, these games are not exclusive to NFL Network, and must be simulcast over-the-air in the primary markets of the participating teams).

Hockey Central and NHL Live

Versus also provides postgame coverage after every game they broadcast. The postgame show was initially known as Hockey Central, airing from their Stamford, Connecticut studios. Beginning in the 2011-12 season, the program was renamed NHL Live, and began incorporating NHL on NBC personalities.

Playoff coverage

During the playoffs, Versus' first-round and second-round games may be subject to blackout in the participating teams' regional markets (although they have exclusivity for two second-round games per series). Versus regains full national coverage for its Conference and Stanley Cup Final telecasts.

Beginning with the 2006 playoffs, Versus simulcast the CBC's coverage of some games, generally first and second round matchups from Western Canada, instead of using their own crews and announcers. In the early 1990s, SportsChannel America covered the Stanley Cup playoffs in a similar fashion. Versus continues to use CBC and TSN feeds to augment its own playoff coverage, sometimes even picking up a Canadian broadcast of a game involving two American teams.

In 2007, Canadians accused the NHL of giving the CBC second billing to Versus' coverage of the playoffs.[5]

Beginning in the 2011–2012 season, NBC Sports and NBCSN will have exclusive rights to the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs starting in round 2 (Conference Semifinals), and non-exclusive rights for the first round (Conference Quarterfinals), and will air each game nationally.[3]



Versus had about 20 million fewer subscribers than ESPN when the NHL started on Versus, but its owner Comcast switched Versus from a digital tier to basic cable to make NHL games available to more cable subscribers as well as re-branded the network (which was then known as the Outdoor Life Network) as a sports network. For Versus, the NHL coverage was a good addition as Versus' ratings grew by about 275% when it showed an NHL game.


Versus' games rated substantially higher than any non-Tour de France programming that Versus had ever aired in comparable timeslots (rating between 0.2 and 0.3 during the regular season). Still, these numbers were quite small compared to ratings for most other sports on national cable channels reaching at least as many homes as Versus.

Versus' playoff viewership did not increase as much as it or the league might have hoped. Versus reached a viewership of 610,836 households for Game 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. This figure was 39% fewer households than what ESPN drew for the Stanley Cup series opener two years earlier (though ESPN has a larger reach than Versus). Game 2 was seen in slightly fewer households (605,501).


Versus averaged a 0.2 Nielsen Media Research household rating, about level with the 2005–06 regular season NHL numbers and its 2006 prime time average.

Versus' coverage of the 2007 All-Star Game garnered a .7 rating (474,298 viewing homes and 672,948 total viewers). Ratings were down 76% from ABC's ratings in 2004, the last time the game was played, and down 82% from ABC's coverage in 2000. However, some of that significant drop can be attributed to the game being played on a weeknight (Wednesday) as opposed to the traditional weekend game, and the fact that Versus is a cable television network unlike ABC which is a broadcast network. The 2008 All-Star Game was scheduled for a Sunday.


In 2007–08, NHL audiences on Versus in the United States remained small, but increased over the previous two seasons. Versus averaged 246,154 viewers a game, up 24 percent from the previous year. Over the year, channel distribution increased to 73.6 million households from 70.8 million. Conference Finals ratings were averaging a 1.2 HH rating. Game 2 between the Flyers and Penguins drew a 1.7 HH rating, 2.3 million viewers; an NHL record on Versus.


  1. ^ Fang, Ken (April 19, 2011). "NBC/Versus To Air NHL Games For The Next Ten Years". Retrieved April 19, 2011. 
  2. ^ AP (April 19, 2011). "NHL reaches new television deal to remain on NBC, Versus". Retrieved April 19, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Fang, Ken (April 19, 2011). "NBC/Versus To Air NHL Games For The Next Ten Years". Retrieved April 19, 2011. 
  4. ^ Fernadez, Bob. "Goodbye Versus, hello NBC Sports Network". Philadelphia Inquirer.  
  5. ^ Houston, William (April 10, 2004). "CBC livid as league bows to Americans". Globe and Mail. Canada. Retrieved March 20, 2008. 

External links

  • Official website
  • The Suitor Tutor, Part 1: On VERSUS and NBC, How Have They Done, and Where the Merger Will Take Them
    • The Suitor Tutor’s Fang Forecheck: On NBC and VERSUS
  • NHL on VERSUS: Have they finally figured out what fans want?
  • NHL on VersusSports Media Watch:
    • Versus
  • A Little Patience with VERSUS Changes … For Now
  • NBC, Versus have inside track on NHL deal
  • Great hockey, yes, but is anyone watching?
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