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Versus President Jamie Davis Talks NHL, WEC and 3D

4/19/2010 6:55 PM ET By A.J. Perez

    • A.J. Perez
    • National Reporter
Jamie Davis The National Hockey League, World Extreme Cagefighting and the Professional Bull Riders were already staples on Versus when Jamie Davis was tapped as president of the Comcast-owned network in September 2008. Davis, however, has been at the helm of the network as Versus has solidified itself in the minds of many sports fans that once derided the channel formerly known as the Outdoor Life Network. Ratings are up and the Versus audience continues to grow, minus the months-long setback with DirecTV that was recently settled. Versus has added the IZOD IndyCar Series, studio shows and bolstered its website in recent months.

Davis recently spoke to FanHouse on the status of Versus in the current sports landscape, if he thinks the network will be the home of the NHL for the foreseeable future and if he sees any major changes to how we watch sports in television.

FanHouse: DirecTV viewers almost went the entire NHL season without Versus before the impasse ended on March 15. How vital was it to get the dispute settled in time for the NHL playoffs?

Davis: Obviously, we are very happy. We were off DirecTV for six and half months. It was very important to back on DirecTV. Unfortunately, we had to go through that to get where we needed to be. We wanted the same level of distribution we had prior to be taken off the air. In the end, we were able to achieve that."

FH: Much of the dispute, as you mentioned had to do with what tier DirecTV was going to put you in. Are you happy with where you are at on cable and satellite operators?

Davis: I think we are in 75 million homes across the country. We are on every cable and satellite provider, so we are available to anybody who wants us. In three years we have gone from 59 million to 75 million homes.

FH: WEC -- which, like UFC, is run by Zuffa LLC -- has its first pay-per-view event on Saturday. Does it hurt Versus to not have such a major event on the network?

Davis: I think it's a great thing. WEC has been with Versus 3 1/2 years from the time it launched. We helped build the WEC brand. It's a testament to Versus. We've worked hard with our partners to build up the sports we air and we did that with WEC. Along with Zuffa, we helped put WEC where it's in the position to have a pay-per-view event. We think it's absolutely fantastic we have been able to expand our relationship with Zuffa to include our first UFC fight that aired on March 21st. We have another UFC event in August.

FH: The NHL Network has slowly increased its presence since it was launched in the U.S. three years ago, thanks in large part to a carriage deal the NHL worked out with Comcast. Are you at all worried that it could siphon off hockey fans who would normally turn to Versus?

Davis: We think we benefit with the growing popularity of the NHL Network. Anything that can boost the popularity of the great game hockey is good for us. We have the great majority of the playoff games. We have the All-Star Game and Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

FH: Some say there wasn't a big enough bump created for the NHL coming out of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Have you been at all disappointed by it?

Davis: We have been very happy with the bump we've received. Team USA had a great run, losing in OT to the Canadians. A whole lot of people took notice of Team USA and we saw a 23 percent increase in viewership compared with the 40 games we broadcasted before the Olympic break. You compare the same period since the break with 2009 and we see a 28 percent increase. I think you can attribute that largely to the Olympics.

FH: The NHL's TV deal with both Versus and NBC runs through next season. Are you confident that you will be able to keep the NHL around?

Davis: We have a fantastic relationship with the league. They couldn't be happier with the way we super-serve fans. There is no one else that willing to do that for the NHL. We do double, triple, maybe even quadruple what they had previously. For the next six weeks, we are going to have hockey basically every single night. Some nights we'll have three or four games on. We've had this relationship coming out of the lockout. People thought this sport was down and out and it was dead. Now, you have the resurgence of the NHL and you are seeing it in the ratings. The 2009 conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals were the highest rated on cable since 2002. We just took it over in 2005. We are delivering a good deal better than what anybody else can.

FH: What future do you think 3D will have on sports programing in the near term?

Davis: Certainly, there is always new technology and it's good to for us to look into enhancing the experience for the viewer. Currently, 3D is in its infancy. I'm not sure if people really want to sit at home and wear 3D goggles. There have been huge gains in the number of homes that have HD, so I'm not sure those people who have spent thousands to upgrade will be prepared to throw it all away to buy 3D sets.

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