October 05, 2009
Versus, the NHL's U.S. cable home, had plenty to crow about last week as the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche helped the network to its most-watched opening night for hockey.
But it's still not back on DirecTV despite an escalating public relations assault on hockey fans -- like this flier handed out at Pepsi Center on Saturday before the Avs/Vancouver Canucks game in Denver.
(Yes, that's right: Versus wanted Avs fans to know that they wouldn't be able to see a game that had already been played.)
Our buddy Jibblescribbits was on the receiving end of the propaganda:
"There was a small army of young VS workers walking around near the Pepsi center today approaching anyone in a hockey sweater/gear and telling them to text Versus to a number (presumably a DirecTV number) and telling them to tell DirecTV that you want VS since we won't be able to watch the games in sports bars -- since most use DirectTV for the NFL package -- and at home if you have Direct TV.
"I was approached by at least five volunteers and my sister (who met me at the game) was approached by 2-3. Coincidentally, these VS ACORN workers were mostly young and decently cute girls."
I've attached a scanned image of the flier, which is just their 'Penalty' ad seen before on the front and the schedule of Avs games us fans would miss on the back. I'm assuming VS was able to save money by not doing this in North Carolina.
"So yeah, the DirecTV - VS conflict has reached the point where one side is sending in ground troops to spread propaganda. If we're keeping score, and we are, we're one Arch-Duke assassination away from a VS/TNT/SyFy/Food network/COMCAST alliance declaring war on the DirecTV/NFL Sunday Package/HISTORY axis."
UPDATE: Puck Buddy Chris P. checks in with word that the Versus PRmy was in Washington as well:
"Hey Puck Daddy, the Versus brownshirts were also in force outside the Verizon Center on Saturday night in Chinatown. This makes it appear that the DIRECTV blackout was intentional and they have no intention of actually negotiating with the satellite carrier, using this instead as a marketing ploy. The 800K viewers is nice and all, but isn't 'The highest opening-night NHL ratings in Versus' history' kind of like being the smartest guy in the trailer park?
"Oh and I subscribe to DIRECTV and I have no intention of switching
providers. Football > Hockey."
While the opening-night audience of 832,781 viewers isn't much when it comes to must-see cable programming, it would seem to reinforce the Versus argument in its dispute with DirecTV: That its programming and audience warrant the clearance it had been receiving, and that moving it to a "tier ghetto" that would cost subscribers additional money to view it would be a mistake.
Steve Lepore from Puck The Media said the good vibes went beyond the viewership numbers in naming Versus a "winner" this weekend:
Give the cable home to the NHL a lot of credit though. Aside from keeping the same, clunky graphics from last year (change that score bug!) VERSUS did some good stuff to shake things up. Darren Dreger's invaluable addition (which included much needed talk on the Phil Kessel(notes) trade) and the Sidney Crosby(notes) interview ate up minutes of time that in the past would've been spent on meaningless, dull banter between Keith Jones and Brian Engblom. The studio show has been tightened up, and certainly for the better. 832,000 Americans agree...
Yet this dispute lingers on, and one can't help but sense DirecTV winning a war of attrition. It's suffered PR backlash from college football, MMA and hockey fans in the last several weeks. It's been the target of national ads and an open letter on NHL.com urging fans to take action. Now, Versus is sending drones to canvass arenas like the network's running fro state delegate.
DirecTV has acted unprofessionally and hypocritically in this dispute, but Versus is working PR channels extremely hard and not getting that much traction. Whatever losses DirecTV is taking in subscribers, it wasn't enough to get into serious talks before the NHL season started; so what will it take?
And how much longer are hockey fans going to have to suffer through this?