The head of sports network Versus brushed aside arguments Thursday that the National Hockey League would be better served by returning to ESPN. Criticism has come from NHL players and their union; they believe that ESPN's wider reach and strong promotional engine would boost the game's visibility and appeal. [...]
Paul Kelly, the head of the NHL Players' Association, stoked some of the dissatisfaction with Versus late last year when he told a Twin Cities newspaper: "This sport has got to get back on ESPN. The marketing and sponsorship activities will flow from a good, solid national TV contract, which the sport has lacked now for a number of years." [...]
Versus is in some 75 million homes, compared to ESPN's wider reach--perhaps 97 million. If ESPN were to pick up NHL games again, it would offer the league opportunities to promote the hockey telecasts on its slew of sports properties, as well as "SportsCenter" and dedicated studio shows.
As a "never miss" viewer of PTI, and a frequent viewer of SportsCenter on ESPN, I can anecdotally say that I noticed the drop off in hockey coverage after ESPN stopped carrying the games. Conversely, it was easy to notice the increase in NASCAR coverage once ESPN began carrying those races. Nothing surprising or sinister about it, just seemingly smart business for ESPN.