NBC Sports Group Drops the Puck on NHL Promotion

NHL Bruins Lightning 2011
Brian Babineau/NHL via Getty Images

BOSTON, MA - MAY 27: Dominic Moore #19 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates with the puck against Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 27, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.

NHL topper John Collins says Comcast/NBC Universal merger and new TV rights deal buys more marketing of pro hockey nationwide by NBC Sports Group.

TORONTO – Don't think commentator Al Michaels got his pro sports mixed up Sunday night when he gave a shout out to Boston Bruins fans during the NBC Sunday Night Football telecast.

That was cross-promotion by the NBC Sports Group as Michaels broke into the New York Jets-Baltimore Ravens NFL telecast to invite Boston sports fans, having just witnessed a Red Sox collapse, to watch Thursday night on Versus as the Bruins raise the Stanley Cup banner at TD Garden.

It's a new game, said NHL COO John Collins, after the pro hockey league earlier this year signed a new 10-year exclusive rights deal with Comcast/NBC Universal that puts 100 NHL games annually on NBC and mostly Versus.

Overnight, the new U.S. rights deal enables 20 NBC networks and 40 of its digital platforms to promote and help grow the NHL stateside.

NHL games previously aired on NBC and Versus, but the Comcast-NBC Universal merger now means pro hockey broadcasts and promotion in the U.S. is under one roof.

“It’s all one company now and to have one group, one team of individuals, who are responsible for how hockey and the NHL will look on a national level throughout the United States makes for an easier and more powerful relationship,” Collins said.

That means changing the mind-set at NBC, where hockey was a weekend sport, and will now dominate the schedule at Versus, a sports cable channel soon to be rechristened NBC Sports Network.

“They’re going to make hockey the anchor product for a lot of that content” on the NBC Sports Network, Collins explained.

NHL on NBC is also getting more Canadian, with Canuck hockey analyst Pierre McGuire now working exclusively on NBC and Versus telecasts, alongside American on-air talent Eddie Olczyk, Mike Milbury and Mike “Doc” Emrik.

Those commentators will also start showing up on the NHL Network, as part of the new NHL-NBC relationship. “We’ll look better, we’ll look bigger, and have more bells and whistles and more story-telling,” Collins said of the NBC and Versus hockey telecasts.

All that NBC promotion of hockey stateside aims at raising the profile of the league’s Stanley Cup championship rounds once NBC offers exclusive coverage starting with the conference semifinals.

“By televising every game to a national audience, we’ll really able to create a tournament feel around the Stanley Cup, which has been created in Canada,” Collins said.