The NBC Sports Group, in the rookie campaign of its $2 billion, 10-year TV and media rights pact with the National Hockey League, will significantly increase its coverage of the puck sport to 100 regular-season contests and provide full national distribution of all Stanley Cup playoff games.
Coming off the most-watched NHL season on cable since 2002, Versus, which will become NBC Sports Network on Jan. 2, is adding a pair of exclusive nights to its lineup, while NBC looks to drop the puck on another new viewing tradition by starting its coverage on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Versus will present a live 30-minute pre- and post-game show before/after every telecast called NHL Live. Moreover, NHL Overtime, which was introduced midway through the 2010-11 season, will return following the post-game show.
In addition to televising games on Monday and Tuesday nights, as it has for the past six seasons, Versus will add a nationally exclusive ‘Game of the Week' telecast on Wednesday night. Starting in January, additional Sunday night games, including many exclusive nights, will be added to its lineup. For the first time, "flex" scheduling -- beginning March 4 -- will be utilized to choose the game that will air in the Sunday night window. While these contests will not be the only NHL contests scheduled on these nights, they will be flanked 30-minute of game-free windows on either side of the telecasts, according to an NBC Sports Group spokesman.
As such, Versus/NBC Sports Network will proffer 90 nights of de facto exclusive NHL action, up from 54 last year, with the expectation of improved regular-season viewing.
The 2011-12 season faces-off on Versus with seven games over the first seven days, starting with a double-header on Thursday, Oct. 6, when the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7 p.m. (ET), followed by the 2011 Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks entertaining the Pittsburgh Penguins at 10 p.m. The action continues with" NHL Premiere Games," a pair of overseas telecasts live from Stockholm, Sweden on Oct. 7, with the New York Rangers taking on the Los Angeles Kings at 1 p.m. and the Broadway Blueshirts battling the Anaheim Ducks at the same time the next day. The networks' exclusive coverage continues with games on Monday, Tuesday and the nationally exclusive ‘Game of the Week' on Wednesday night, beginning the week of Oct. 10.
For its part, NBC Sports Network (nee Versus) will once again televise NHL All-Star festivities, comprising the NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft, NHL Skills Competition and the NHL All-Star Game, the weekend of January 27, 2012. Last year's All-Star Game, which benefited from receiving cross-channel NBCU promotion, was the most-watched NHL All-Star Game in Versus history.
As mentioned above, NBC will take to the ice for the first time on Black Friday, Nov. 25 at 1 p.m., with the Bruins hosting the 2008 Stanley Cup kingpins, the Detroit Red Wings. The 2012 Winter Classic, widely reported to feature the Flyers and the Rangers from Citizen Bank Ballpark in the City of Brotherly Love, was not announced as part of the NHL's new TV schedule. The Peacock's presentation of the Washington Capitals' win over the Penguins at Heinz Field in the Steel City was the most-watched regular-season game in the U.S in 36 years.
The Heritage Classic -- the outdoor game that was played last Feb. 20 that showcased Calgary hosting Montreal in McMahon Stadium -- is not on the NHL calendar this season.
NBC's Sunday schedule begins on Jan. 14 with Chicago and Detroit from Joe Louis Arena in the Motor City. For the fifth straight season, the NHL and NBC Sports will tap flex scheduling to choose the game that will air in the Game of the Week window. Beginning on March 4, one of the flex games not chosen to air on NBC will be chosen to air nationally on NBC Sports Network on Sunday night.
NBC will also deliver a second "Hockey Day in America." Set for Feb. 19, the event will once again feature six hours of coverage and eight teams from some of the most avid U.S. hockey markets. The coverage will start at noon with three regional games with staggered starts (Pittsburgh at Buffalo, San Jose at Detroit, St. Louis at Chicago), followed by a national broadcast of Boston at Minnesota at 3 p.m.
Leading into the playoffs, NBC and NBC Sports Network will televise 10 games in the final seven days of the regular season, highlighted by a triple-header on Saturday, April 7.
Come the postseason, for the first time all of the games in the quest for Lord Stanley's Cup will be televised nationally on an NBCU platform. Exclusive coverage of the postseason begins with the conference semifinals, which in the past had been shared with regional sports networks. Those exclusivities should drive NBC Sports Network's playoff ratings, culminating with its Game 3 and Game 4 coverage in the Stanley Cup Finals.
NBC airs the first two games and the if-necessary contests in the best-of-seven series. Last season, Boston's triumph over Vancouver in Game 7 was watched by 8.54 million people, making it the most-watched NHL game in 38 years.