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NHL gets new deal with NBC and Versus

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to reporters in

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to reporters in Glendale, Ariz., before a hockey game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Phoenix Coyotes. (March 8, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

The NHL announced a new 10-year deal with NBC and Versus to continue carrying the league’s games, a deal believed to be worth about $200 million per season.

NBC/Versus outlasted several bidders, notably ESPN, an outlet favored by some NHL people because of its powerful brand and promotional power.

But commissioner Gary Bettman insisted fans have become accustomed to Versus in the six seasons it has covered the sport, and that it remains a good fit.

“Versus’ coverage of our game has been extraordinary, and hockey fans and sports fans have found it and actually have been telling us on a regular basis it’s terrific,’’ he said.

The deal is modest by the standards of other major sports, but it is the biggest in NHL history.

The expiring contract brought in about $77 million from Versus. NBC’s deal was a revenue sharing arrangement.

The NHL had been hoping to capitalize on recent ratings successes, including the largest audience for a hockey game in the United States in 36 years for Game 6 of last year’s Stanley Cup finals. 

By coincidence, the NHL’s two national television partners landed under the same corporate umbrella when Comcast purchased a majority of NBC Universal earlier this year.

That made keeping hockey more attractive as the company plans to rebrand and build Versus’ sports offerings. The channel will have a new name, one that includes “NBC,’’ by this summer.

NBC and Versus are to carry about 100 regular-season games, and NBC will add a Friday night game the day after Thanksgiving.

Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports Group, said a key to the new deal is the expansion of national exclusives.

In the second round of the playoffs next year, no games will appear on local channels. Any game not on NBC  will be seen only on Versus or on another NBC-owned national cable outlet.


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