National Hockey League
NHL or MMA: What got Vs. back on DirectTV?


By Dan Di Sciullo
NHL Editor


Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After months of haggling over carriage fees and other points of contention too boring to rehash, Versus is finally back on DirecTV.

DirecTV dropped Versus a month before the NHL season began due to an argument over how much Comcast -- the telecommunications behemoth that owns the sports channel -- was charging the satellite giant to carry Vs.

That meant for the first five months of the season, nationally televised hockey games on Vs. were nowhere to be found in the homes of an estimated 18 million DirecTV subscribers.

The important thing for Versus is that the channel is back as an option in millions of American homes and it's on the same DirecTV sports programming package as it was when the satellite giant dropped the station back in August.

The Stanley Cup playoffs certainly weren't the only factor in getting Vs. back on the air.
Still, it's hard to say who won the battle since financial terms of the new deal were not revealed.

DirecTV seemed to have caved under the pressure, but the issue for them was always the fees Comcast was charging. Since we don't know what the carriage fees on the new deal are, or even how long the new agreement will last, it's difficult to guess if Comcast or DirecTV benefited more from the standstill.

If Comcast gets less than it was receiving from DirecTV before the previous carriage deal ended on Aug. 31, it probably won't be fatal. The Philadelphia- based company doesn't exactly have to pinch pennies, judging from Comcast's impending purchase of NBC Universal. The three digits on my last cable bill also convince me that Comcast won't need a government bailout any time soon.

Hockey fans will boast that DirecTV was forced to cave now that the Stanley Cup playoffs are less than a month away, but that certainly wasn't the only factor in getting Vs. back on the air.

The NHL is one of the four major sports, so it's largely assumed that the biggest draw on Vs. is professional hockey. That's because the mainstream sports media largely ignores mixed martial arts, which continues to increase in popularity.

The numbers also suggest that the DirecTV spat hurt Versus more in the realm of MMA than it did in terms of NHL viewership, possibly because MMA is bigger than hockey in rural areas of the country where Comcast is not as prevalent.

The first WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) event after DirecTV drew 419,000 viewers -- over 250,000 less than had watched the previous WEC card on August 9. WEC is also staging its first pay-per view on April 24 and DirecTV will now be allowed to carry that event, which will feature Urijah Faber in the main card. Faber's previous three appearances averaged 1,112,000 viewers for Versus, making him the Alex Ovechkin of WEC.

Comcast may have even felt more pressure to get Vs. back on DirecTV in light of the cable station's first UFC event, which is scheduled for Sunday night.

Whether it was DirecTV's fear of missing out on the NHL playoffs or Comcast's desire to get its MMA programming back on the right track ratings-wise, the clear winners are satellite subscribers.

Versus may never step into the same league as ESPN in terms of viewership and power, but the station has acquired enough niche sports to make its presence essential to many Americans.

The NHL gives Vs. consistency and the respect that the sports channel desires, while MMA has been able to deliver the occasional huge ratings night if the right guy is fighting.

Together, the NHL and MMA have made Vs. a bit player in the world of televised sports something that seemed impossible just a few years back,

OVECHKIN SUSPENSION

Speaking of the Urijah Faber of the NHL, Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin's two-game suspension by the league was a no-brainer.

The Russian sniper drilled Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell near the end boards on Sunday, sending Campbell headfirst into the dasher.

The hit itself was not exactly dirty but reckless, the exact word that the NHL used to describe the play in its press release announcing the suspension.

Yet, the fact that Ovechkin was given a major penalty and a game misconduct by officials made it easy to hand out the two-game sanction. Campbell also broke his clavicle on the play and will reportedly miss the rest of the regular season.

Not to mention, Washington has already clinched the Southeast Division and with a huge lead atop the Eastern Conference standings, missing their best player for two games will not likely stop the Caps from taking the East's top playoff seed.

As for the impact this will have on Ovechkin, it's safe to say that this suspension won't change his style of play one bit. Ovie has been the same player since he entered the league in 2005-06, one who skates the thin line between aggressive and dirty. That's part of what makes him a great player, and certainly the reason he is the NHL's biggest draw.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo

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