I listen each week on XM to the HomeIce show that Commissioner Bettman hosts and people bash the Versus coverage of the game all the time. The Commish is smart. He listens to these complaints that beg to get the NHL on ESPN, and he lets the fan rant, and then he calmly dispels the fan by saying how Versus is doing a great job, the NHL gets exclusive coverage, the channel doesn’t leave the game for other programming (see NBC for horse racing – you gotta be kidding me!), and that the viewership of Versus is growing every day. All these points are totally true - until this summer. Now I know that Gary Bettman has been busy with the Coyotes mess, but no response from the NHL for over 4 weeks in the split between Versus and DirecTV.
Versus had a potential market before the split of just under 80 million homes. DirecTV accounted for just over 20 million homes. This means a 25% DROP in viewership for all Versus NHL games. I wonder if the sponsors of those games are getting a discount.
Now I know that HockeyBuzz and Versus have a partnership and that is good for the game. My problem with the situation about Versus and DirecTV is this. Versus is a channel that needs to be broadcast to make money. However, Versus is owned by Comcast and Comcast’s biggest competitor is DirecTV. So Comcast is using Versus as leverage to drive customers away from their competitor. Makes sense right?
Wrong! The simple fact is that over 95% of the land area of the United States is still very rural. Cities and suburbs represent a very small amount of actual land area. Look at the maps from Presidential elections. The red counties are rural and the blue counties are urban. Comcast and other cable companies are 100% totally uninterested in rural America, but DirecTV is. So the people that are hurt are the folks that have NO CHOICE but to use DirecTV for satellite (don’t get me started on Dish Network – had it – hated it and switched right back!). There is Comcast cable around me, in the small cities that are 25 to 30 miles away, but when I call for cable service they just laugh and say no thank you.
So how can they rectify the situation? Comcast should negotiate with DirecTV to allow broadcast of their channel to areas that CANNOT BE COVERED with cable television. Very simple! This can be done in minutes by the satellite company by zip code restrictions. They do it for local channels now. Now this let’s Comcast have an advantage over the satellite vendors in the cable territories.
Here is what the Commish needs to do...
1. He needs to step into the situation and get Versus back on DirecTV or he must include the Versus feed as part of the CenterIce package. A 25% drop in potential viewers damages the deal with Versus and the NHL. As mad as I am that my DirecTV doesn’t carry Versus, Versus does treat the NHL as the royalty programming on their network. And quite frankly, I do not like ESPN programming any more. The NHL network is where I go to watch hockey highlights without all the stupid catchphrases from the ESPN anchors.
2. He needs to get Versus and the NHL Network as part of the standard lineup for all major hotel chains in the United States. I travel often for work and I have yet to find ANY hotel that carries Versus or NHL Network.
Only 2 things to accomplish Mr Commissioner...shouldn't be too hard!