There are some people who will never be convinced that Versus is the right place for the NHL, but it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t worked out pretty well for the network this year.
Versus on Tuesday saw its highest-rated and most watched program ever with Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and will finish its hockey coverage this season tonight with Game 4. Nearly 3 million people tuned into game 3, giving Versus a 2.6 National household rating. By historical standards, that’s quite good, as it’s the highest-ever rating for the NHL on cable since 2002. The numbers follow significant ratings increases during the regular season and throughout the playoffs.
We talked with Versus President Jamie Davis on Wednesday, and he sounded like he was busting at the seams.
“We had an unbelievable regular season, we’ve had the best postseason, we had the best conference finals in over a decade…the momentum is going and it’s just fantastically exciting,” Davis said.
Versus, which is owned by Comcast, has often touted its ability to “super-serve” sports fans by offering fewer sports but providing broader coverage that other networks, such as ESPN, might not have time or space for. Davis said he believes the strategy worked to boost ratings for the NHL now.
“Our recipe for what we do and what we do differently that other national sports broadcasters is working,” Davis said. “Because we’ve provided so much in-depth coverage of hockey throughout the last four years, we are serving fans and they are thriving from it. They’re getting to know the names not just in their own markets but around the country. It’s a buzz that people are following the sport whether their team is in it or not, and that’s exciting.”
Davis said the network is hopeful the NHL buzz will carry over to Versus coverage of the Indy Racing League, Tour De France and WEC mixed martial arts events. Versus is also launching a new show on June 7 called “Fanarchy” that features sports fans acting out on their Web cams.
Versus is still a growing network, and there still many people complain that they don’t get the channel or can’t find it on their dial. (Consider, for instance, that subscribers to DirecTV can find nearly all national sports channels in the 206-220 range of their channel lineup, while Versus is up at 604.)
Davis pointed out that Versus is now available in 75 million homes, so it has about 75 percent of the distribution of ESPN. Davis acknowledged that Versus is not in the most ideal location because its placement was made prior to when it re-branded three years ago from the Outdoor Life Network, but he said the network’s research does not back up the notion that people can’t find it.
“If people couldn’t find us, we wouldn’t be getting these kinds of numbers,” he said.