Versus Nears Deals to Televise College Hockey
CHN Staff Report
Versus, the television network owned by Comcast, is closing in on multiple agreements to air college hockey games this season.
Versus, which is soon re-branding itself as NBC Sports Network, has already been home to the NHL for the past six seasons.
The Versus package will not be a national deal, per se. It was not negotiated with College Hockey Inc. or the Hockey Commissioners Association. That is impossible given all of the deals confererences have separate Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) and teams have with other local channels.
But Versus is intending to reach agreement with all five current Division I leagues to air games on Friday or Saturday nights. Some of those deals have already been finalized. Versus is expected to make an announcement of its broadcast package once all of the deals have been completed.
CBS College Sports (former CSTV) already has a similar arrangement with the leagues. ESPN-U was doing some games, mainly Hockey East games on Sunday afternoons, but that appears to have been disbanded. NHL Network will continue to air some games, but is essentially only picking up existing coverage from local feeds.
Working with national networks is tricky, because most of the leagues have existing local deals. Hockey East, for example, has a contract with New England Sports Network (NESN), the CCHA has a deal with Fox Sports Detroit, and the WCHA has one with Fox Sports North. In addition, individual schools have a variety of local deals. In most cases, it is written in those contracts that those local or regional networks have precedence — i.e. the first right to pick which games it wants to broadcast.
Comcast, which also owns the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers and is the nation's largest cable television provider, began its own sports channel in 1996 called Outdoor Life Network. In 2006, one year after landing the NHL national broadcast rights, it changed the name to Versus. In the interim, the NHL moved its network television package to NBC. Comcast then purchased a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal from General Electric in February 2011.
In April 2011, the NHL agreed to extend its contract with NBC Sports and Versus for 10 years, a deal worth nearly $2 billion. Comcast then announced that Versus would change its name to NBC Sports Network as January 2012.