NBC, Versus Team Up for Nine Hours of Hockey Across the Americas

The NBC-Comcast partnership will take center stage this Sunday when NBC Sports and Versus team up for nine hours of hockey coverage. The inaugural “Hockey Day in America” on NBC will feature a live studio show from Chicago’s Millennium Park outdoor ice rink, three regional NHL games with staggered starts, and a national game, all of which build momentum for Sunday night’s NHL Heritage Classic, an outdoor game that will be broadcast on Versus. The day-long hockey tribute provides plenty of opportunities for the networks to work together to build excitement around the sport of hockey and to leverage each other to increase production values.

“The big goal for our whole group was to make it more than just a doubleheader,” says Sam Flood, executive producer for NBC Sports and Versus. “It’s more than just three regional games followed by a 3:30 national game followed by an outdoor game. We wanted to weave this thread throughout the day of celebration of hockey. For the first time, we can take advantage of the NBCU synergies with this new company and tell the audience that there’s this big outdoor hockey game north of the border that takes place as soon as Pittsburgh-Chicago ends.”

A Six-Hour Celebration
The idea for the Hockey Day in America celebration came to Flood after he watched Hockey Day in Canada on the CBC. Looking for a bigger and better way to celebrate hockey in the U.S., he designed the six-hour extravaganza. Coverage will begin at noon ET, live from McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Chicago’s Millennium Park, where the Stanley Cup will be on hand to add to the day’s spectacle. Before the first regional game begins at 12:35, NBC will tell stories that demonstrate Americans’ love for hockey.

“Parents across the country get in their cars at 6 a.m. and drive their kids to the rink so that they can be part of the greatest game in the world,” Flood says. “We’re going to celebrate the hockey moms and hockey dads who sacrifice so much to get their kids out to the rink.”

From inner-city hockey players in Washington, DC, and a Canadian professional women’s league to stories from the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and a Los Angeles celebrity game, Hockey Day in America will describe how hockey has made a difference in the lives of Americans.

“The thought is to weave that thread of hockey throughout the day,” Flood explains. “We’ll show that ritual of hockey to everyone and let people be a part of it. After taking their kids to the rink, those hockey parents will get to go back home and watch all of this, and get into a fun hockey slate of NHL games.”

Around the Country and Back Again
NBC has four regional games lined up for Sunday, with the starts staggered by five minutes to allow for live look-ins during intermissions. All viewers will begin with Washington at Buffalo before being taken to Philadelphia at New York Rangers or Detroit at Minnesota, depending on their region. At 3:30, all viewers come back together for the national game, Pittsburgh at Chicago, which immediately precedes the 2011 NHL Heritage Classic (Montreal at Calgary, on Versus). Throughout the Pittsburgh-Chicago game on NBC, Versus will provide reports from Calgary, and NBC will show parts of the outdoor practice and pregame skate.

“We’ve got this hockey-crazed audience celebrating the game for the day and ending up with hockey under the lights in the open air,” Flood says. “Nothing could be more fun than that. This is the first big synergy day [between NBC and Versus], and we are happy to tie this all together.”

During the past few weekends, NBC has done some promotion for Versus during its Sunday hockey telecasts to let viewers know that they have the opportunity to watch more hockey on the sister cable network.

“That’s the agenda and how we’re trying to work as one,” Flood says. “The challenge is capturing the siloed audience, which is so passionate about their individual teams, capturing that passion across the whole sport, accumulating that group together, and getting that hockey nation to watch as one and not just watch their home team.”

Production Role Reversal
The spectacle of being outdoors should go a long way toward attracting those regionalized fans to the first outdoor NHL game to air on cable in the U.S. McMahon Stadium in Calgary, home to the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, should be filled with more than 40,000 fans, and primary broadcaster CBC will be as concerned with capturing the atmosphere at the venue as the action on the ice.

“For the Winter Classic, NBC was the primary feed and CBC was secondary, but the roles are reversed here, as CBC is primary and Versus is secondary,” Flood explains. “Our partners at CBC have all the equipment to showcase everything that happens on the ice and, more important, the scene at the venue, which is as important as the game itself.”

Where NBC had an airplane for overhead shots of the Winter Classic, the CBC will be using a helicopter for overhead views of the Heritage Classic. CBC will also use a jumbo crane for the play-by-play camera, and Versus will take a split of all of the CBC cameras to cut its own show.

“John Norton, who’s producing the game on Versus, has got plenty at his disposal to make this a high-end telecast,” Flood says. “We look forward to seeing him make it all happen.”