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Versus in Playoff Form

Apr 12, 2009  •  Post A Comment

After a regular season with strong ratings, Versus is gearing up to win viewers and maximize revenue from its broadcasts of National Hockey League playoffs, which are among the network’s highest-rated programs.
Mark Fein, executive VP for programming, production and business operations for Versus, said the Comcast-owned sports channel aims to air as many games as it can.
“Double-headers, triple-headers, whatever we can do each night to squeeze in as many games as we can,” Mr. Fein said.
That might mean pumping in telecasts from Canada to provide bonus coverage for Versus viewers in the U.S., he said.
“We’ll surround it with [studio show] ‘Hockey Central’ and just really have it take over the network in prime time during the playoffs,” he added.
Hockey is one of the centerpieces for Versus, which ranked as No. 47 in total viewer ratings among advertising-supported cable networks in primetime during the first quarter. Total viewership rose 3% during the quarter, and it was up 10% among adults 18 to 49. The network, seen by media buyers as a relative bargain compared to ESPN, also lures sports fans with IndyCar racing, mixed martial arts and the Tour de France.
“Regular season has been doing very well for us this year. We’re up again in viewership over 20% and all the key male demos are up 40% to 50%,” Mr. Fein said.
Last year’s playoffs were the NHL’s highest-rated on cable since 2002, before hockey moved from the much bigger ESPN to Versus.
After four seasons, “People know we’re the home of hockey in 75 million homes,” Mr. Fein said.
This year’s Stanley Cup Finals will be a bit different because Versus will carry games three and four after NBC airs the first two games of the series. The series returns to NBC if more games are needed.
“For them to be pushing viewers to us for games three and four and us back to them for games five, six and seven should work nicely,” Mr. Fein said.
The danger of a ratings-crushing sweep in the final is offset slightly by the prospect that the Stanley Cup would be hoisted by the winner on Versus.
Compared to other sports networks, Versus is seen as a bit of a bargain by ad buyers. Also, the network is flexible when it comes to integrating advertisers into its game telecasts, so sales have been pretty good, Mr. Fein said.
The NHL playoffs have attracted Taco Bell and Domino’s as new sponsors. This season, official NHL sponsors McDonald’s, Cisco and Bridgestone signed up as seasonlong advertisers on Versus, and Honda, a first-year advertiser, will have a big presence in the playoffs, the network said.
Anheuser-Busch is the presenting sponsor for Versus’ “Hockey Central” post-game show. The U.S. Marine Corps and Verizon are presenting sponsors for “Hockey Central” intermission reports.
There also is a text-to-win Las Vegas Overtime Guaranteed Sweepstakes sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Association. Fans text to enter to win a trip to Vegas. Fans also get text alerts when a Versus playoff game goes into overtime.
Versus plans to cross-promote between hockey and its new IndyCar racing coverage. It also will be promoting a World Extreme Cagefighting match on June 7.
With Lance Armstrong on the mend after a fall in which he broke his collarbone, the network also might tease its upcoming coverage of the Tour de France, Mr. Fein said.

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