Stanley Cup Playoff Games to Air on USA

Hockey could be sign of NBCU’s plan to add sports to its top cable network
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The NBC Sports Group plans to air some Stanley Cup playoff games on USA Network this year.

NBC puts all of the hockey playoff games on national channels and has used networks including CNBC as an outlet for overflow games during the early rounds in the past.

“USA Network is joining the NBC Sports Group team to televise Stanley Cup Playoff games this year. We’ll have more information as we get closer to the start of the playoffs,” an NBC Sports spokesperson said.

USA now airs WWE wresting and the Westminster Dog Show but sports was once a big part of its programming.  It aired NHL hockey from 1979, when it was the UA-Columbia network, through 1985. Its last major sporting event was U.S. Open tennis, which it broadcast until 2008. The event moved from USA and CBS to ESPN. 

USA also aired some English Premier League soccer games last year.

Sports is a key component on driving carriage fees from cable operators. NBCU and its parent company, Comcast, have said that both sub fees and ad revenues for the cable network it acquired from GE when it bought NBCU, generate less subscriber revenue than comparable networks owned by other media companies. Having sports could help with negotiations with both cable operators and advertisers at a time when USA — and other major cable networks — are suffering lower ratings.

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke talked about adding sports to the mix at USA during Comcast’s third quarter earnings call in October.

“We’re always making adjustments and trying to look at new things. If you take USA for example, we’re going to be investing more in original programming,” Burke said. “I think you could see us taking some of our existing sports that are on other channels and putting them on USA. So there will be a whole variety of changes and hopefully those changes result in a hit and our ability to outperform the rest of the sector."

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