NHL Continues To Light Lamp For Versus: Davis

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Jamie Davis got what he wanted, and a little more on Wednesday night.
The Versus president, asked if the network's presentation of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks would surpass its record viewership set last year, was cautiously optimistic.
"We've had strong momentum during the playoffs and [U.S. broadcast carrier] NBC was up 17% with the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final versus last season," he said. "You never know. We need an exciting, tight game."
That was certainly the case: a topsy-turvy affair that ended in overtime. That Philly prevailed at home to cut its deficit to one game was a bonus because now Versus could be in position to beat its new network Nielsen mark.
The June 2 telecast posted a 3.1 national rating, translating into an average of 3.6 million watchers, according to Nielsen data. That eclipsed the network's telecast of Game 4 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, which posted a 2.8 national rating and 3.45 million watchers. Flyers-Blackhawks was also the most-watched final on cable since 2002, according to Versus officials.
The performance built on the momentum network achieved with the best cable marks for the first two rounds of the playoffs since Nielsen began keeping score during the 1993-94 season.
Now Versus figures to cap its best post-season with the puck sport with its Game 4 telecast from Philadelphia on June 4, before turning the rest of the game coverage over to NBC. As part of its commitment to super-serving the sport, Versus will continue its post-game shows for the balance of the series.
With the conclusion of the 2009-10 campaign, Versus executives again will sit down with the league to see what they can do to improve for next season. Then, there's also a little matter about rights renewals that figure to take place in late fall.
"We have one year left on our contract. We're very happy as a network with the NHL so far," said Davis. "And we would like to think that Versus has contributed to the sport's momentum and growth since the work stoppage [claimed the 2004-05 season.]"
Asked if Versus would be making a joint bid with NBC during rights negotiations, Davis reminded that the proposed union between its parent Comcast and NBC Universal is still undergoing regulatory review.
"It's premature at this point," he said. "Right now, Versus and NBC continue to operate independently."
Does he anticipate the NHL may seek to bring another cable/broadcast team in the form of ESPN/ABC into the mix during next contract?
Davis said that was a question for the NHL, which the league's COO John Collins also skated past in interview with Multichannel News last month.  Davis acknowledged that "money will certainly be part of the rights equation," but he also thinks Versus has scored some points with the league as a network that has helped it grow over the last few seasons.
As for the 2010-11 season, Davis said Versus is looking forward to televising the Heritage Classic, the outdoor game between the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens scheduled for Feb. 20 from McMahon Stadium in Calgary.
"It's another tentpole event to further increase awareness for the sport and build the NHL audience," he said, referring to opening night, NBC's Jan. 1 presentation of the Winter Classic and Versus' coverage of All-Star weekend from Raleigh, N.C. on Jan. 29-30, 2011.
Davis says those events -- as was the case with the hockey competition from the Vancouver Olympics this past February -- help create excitement and lend themselves to strong marketing elements, leading into the payoff of the playoffs.
Versus allocated much of its promotional inventory during the Stanley Cup Final telecasts to its next big event: the Tour De France, which dominates its schedule during July.
Davis declined to comment on the Floyd Landis' allegations that Lance Armstrong and other top cyclists had used illegal substances over the years. "That's for the anti-doping organizations to address," he said. "All I know, there has been cooperation with those groups over the years."
Davis said there had been great interest in the 2010 Tour -- which will showcase Armstrong and last year's winner Alberto Contador on different teams -- on Madison Avenue.
He said the Versus by the end of March had already surpassed its ad sales total from the race a year ago. Returning advertisers include Michelob Ultra, Cadillac, Nike and Cervelo, while Nissan, Radio Shack and Izod are new to the Tour's on-air sponsor roster.
As Versus presents its coverage of the 21 stages in France, it will promote and gear up for its second Ultimate Fighting Championship card on Aug. 1. Versus, which has had a long relationship with sister promotion World Extreme Cagefighting circuit, aired its first UFC card on March 21.
From there, Versus turns its attention to college football, with contests from the Pac 10 and Mountain West Conferences on tap.
"And then, we're back to the NHL again," said Davis.