Versus’s days are numbered, and the network has never been stronger.
With the clock ticking down in the final months of the brand known as Versus, NBC Sports Group has already implemented the infrastructure that will take its place when the channel officially becomes NBC Sports Network on Jan. 2.
“We’ve fully integrated the entire operation in terms of production, engineering, support,” says Jeff Simon, director of NHL on NBC. “It’s really considered just one organization that is on two different platforms. The rebranding of Versus is still down the line, but, if you’ve seen any of our early games, our graphic look is almost entirely NHL on NBC, and I think the things that we have done in the past on NBC in terms of the production and the style of the coverage is the same way on Versus.”
Under the hood, little is different in the production of the NHL on Versus, according to Simon. It’s mostly the same people, same equipment, and same studios that made the network’s hockey coverage a year ago. The biggest change, however, is the programming schedule, which offers about 100 NHL games, doubling the total that NBC Sports Group produced a season ago.
“We signed a 10-year deal with the NHL, which has cemented this relationship as a partnership, and now the games on Versus are nearly double,” says Simon. “When you put the platforms together and you throw in all of the Comcast regional sports networks, hockey is such a big staple of the company now.”
Versus also works closely with those Comcast affiliates and other local broadcasters, sharing resources whenever possible. For most games, Simon and his crew have five hard cameras, two handhelds, and two robotics at their disposal. That complement can certainly increase on any given night.
For example, when Versus broadcast a Washington Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins game from the Verizon Center earlier this month, Comcast Sportsnet Washington already had two robotic cameras positioned. So Versus needed to deploy only one of its cameras and used the two already in-house. The Verizon Center also has robotic cams on the base of the scoreboard (referred to as “hot heads”) over center ice.
“When we are in position to add cameras that exist locally,” says Simon, “we can enhance our coverage with that whenever the opportunity presents itself.”
Versus’s expanded exclusive cable coverage includes Wednesday- and Sunday-night games and live 30-minute pre- and post-game shows for every game on Versus; the Winter Classic on Jan. 2 between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers; the return of Hockey Day in America on NBC; the NHL All-Star Weekend; and national distribution of all Stanley Cup Playoff games.
NBC will commence its broadcast coverage earlier than ever, with a special original-six matchup on Friday Nov. 25 at 1 p.m. ET, the day after Thanksgiving. The Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins will host the 2008 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings live from the TD Bank Garden in Boston.
NBC will once again air the much anticipated Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Monday Jan. 2, at 1 p.m. ET, when the Philadelphia Flyers host the New York Rangers live from Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies.