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Neil Best leaves no stone unturned in the world of sports media.

Versus to show NHL All-Star Game; Crosby won't show

(Credit: Watchdog)

Elsewhere in my Friday column, I update readers on the progress Versus has made in gaining recognition and acceptance as the only national, widely distributed, multi-sport, 24-hour-a-day TV sports network that does not have ESPN in its name.

Alas, I wrote this item before the news arrived that Sidney Crosby would not be participating in the NHL All-Star Game on Versus Sunday, which is like an NBA All-Star Game without Kobe and LeBron.

I had a nice chat with Versus' energetic, relatively new president, Jamie Davis, who broke a small bit of news that might be of interest to hockey-fan readers who regularly ask me about the NHL returning to ESPN.

Before Davis' arrival, Versus usually left the door open a crack to the notion of at least talking to ESPN about subcontracting its exclusive cable rights, but Davis said: "No desire to do so."

(ESPN's interest in the NHL cooled after NBC renewed for this season, because it had no interest in being third in line for choice games behind NBC and Versus.)

Click below for more from my discussion with Davis.On viewer recognition of Versus growing: "Whenever you do a re-brand or launch it's new. Whenever you do that I think it takes time for people to find it . . . You have to look at the brand awareness of the network itself. We re-launched in September of 2006. We did a brand survey in December of 2006, and were at 16 percent. We just redid that over the summer and it was 60 percent, and it's up since then. We'll do it again in February. People are finding the network."

On hockey ratings last season: "The regular season was up 50 percent over the year before, but the playoffs were up astronomically from what they did in the past. In the conference finals households were up 71 percent, key male demos, we were up 152 percent men 18-34, up 109 percent in 18-49 . . . It was the highest rated NHL postseason since 2002, and the NHL left ESPN in 2004."

On the synergy among Versus' various offerings: "Some of these sports overlap massively with the field sports."

On perception of network: "We're finally on the radar, which we weren’t two years ago as a traditional sports network."

Davis said "distribution has expanded massively" to about 75 million homes. (ESPN is in about 98 million.)

On whether it would make sense at some point to have Versus' own signature hockey voices rather than using the same No. 1 team as NBC: Doc Emrick and Ed Olczyk: "Right now we are interested in having the best of the best . . . As the network matures I guess you’ll have to see."

Tags: versus , nhl , sidney crosby , hockey

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