“There is a good, healthy buzz about the NHL,” said Christine Merrifield, senior vp and director of video investment at MediaVest. “From an advertiser perspective, it’s priced fairly. and being able to combine broadcast and cable buys is good.” Scale may be the only factor working against the NHL. “The one downside is that it doesn’t have a mass reach that the other major TV sports have,” she said.
The uptick in hockey comes at a crucial time for the current rights holders. With Versus and NBC contracts set to expire in 2011, John Skipper, evp of content at ESPN, has indicated he’d like hockey to return to ESPN and ABC.
Jamie Davis, president of Versus, aims to hold on to the asset. “We took over the telecasts in 2005, the year after the lockout, and together with the NHL, as true partners, we have worked to bring the viewers back,” Davis said.
At least one media buyer is rooting for Versus. “If the NHL goes back to ESPN, it is going to get lost on a network that shows so many different sports,” said one national TV buyer. “On Versus, it stands out.”
The buyer added that the completion of the proposed Comcast-NBC deal would make a joint NBC/Versus hockey buy just as potent as an ABC/ESPN buy.