Versus is about to crown its most successful season with the National Hockey League as it presents Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight.
The Comcast Corp.-owned network has glissaded into “Hockey Town,” where the Western Conference champion Detroit Red Wings will host Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage faces off at 7:30 p.m. with the network’s studio show, Hockey Central live from Joe Louis Arena in the Motor City.
For the third consecutive year, NHL legend Mark Messier, who won five Stanley Cups, four with the Edmonton Oilers and one with the New York Rangers, will join the Hockey Central squad as a guest analyst.
Versus will also have exclusive coverage of Game 2 of the finals Monday night, before passing the puck to the NHL’s broadcast carrier, NBC, for the rest of the best-of-seven series.
The NHL’s exclusive cable network heads to Detroit on a ratings surge. After recording its best-ever ratings and viewership numbers in its third season of NHL coverage, Versus has registered stronger numbers with each successive playoff round.
During its nine exclusive conference final round games, Versus netted a 71% rise in household ratings, a 77% gain in total viewership, a 152% jump among men 18 to 49, 109% improvement with men 18 to 49 and a 79% leap with guys 25 to 54, according to Nielsen Media Research data. Those numbers mark the best-rated, most-watched conference finals since 2002,when the games were televised by ESPN2.
The May 11 second game of the Eastern Conference final series between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers was the most-watched and highest-rated hockey game on cable TV in the last five years, skating to a 1.7 household rating and 2.35 million viewers. That made itVersus’ most-watched telecast ever, according to network officials.
The growth in the conference finals follows a 50% increase in household ratings during the regular season, a 33% increase in the conference quarterfinals and 50% advance in the conference semifinals.
“Strong hockey markets playing deep into the playoffs, emerging young stars and an intensely high level of play, coupled with our un-matched, all-encompassing coverage of the sport, came together this season to create an unbelievable year of the NHL on Versus,” said network president Gavin Harvey in a statement. “We’re heading into our third Stanley Cup Final with a ton of momentum after the best conference finals in years and look forward to televising Games 1 and 2 of what looks to be an incredible series between two historic franchises playing at the top of their game.”