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NHL NBC Universal conference call transcript @NHLdotcom
FRANK BROWN: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this conference call. I'm Frank Brown of the National Hockey League, and with us today and available to answer your questions, from the NHL, Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, and Chief Operating Officer John Collins; from the NBC Sports Group, Chairman Dick Ebersol, President of NBC Sports Ken Schanzer, and President of NBC Sports Cable Group Mark Lazarus. There will be some opening remarks followed by a question?and?answer session.

GARY BETTMAN: Thank you all for coming this afternoon. It is my pleasure to be here with my colleagues and those from NBC Sports and particularly Dick Ebersol to announce that we are staying in business together for at least the next ten years. We have extended our relationship both on NBC and on VERSUS. As we have been building the sport over the last six years, we could not have had better partners than NBC and VERSUS.

It has brought us to the point today where we're looking at the most significant media deal that this league has ever been able to participate in, and it's an extraordinarily exciting time for us because it comes in the aftermath, if you will, of the incredibly exciting NBC Universal/Comcast merger.

We always viewed, during the process when the two entities were combining to be the largest media distribution company perhaps in the world, that we could perhaps be the single biggest beneficiary of the synergies that these two great companies could bring together -- the 20 networks, the 40 digital platforms. All of that is going to be at our disposal collectively to continue to grow the game.

The NHL is seeing incredible action on the ice. The game itself, the competitive balance probably has never been better, and our business continues to thrive.

So this was a great time for us and this new exciting entity, which Dick Ebersol, my good friend for over 24 years, and his colleagues to continue to grow the game and to continue in new and exciting ways to do the great work that we've been doing. We couldn't be happier. I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge Bill Daly, deputy commissioner, and John Collins, our chief operating officer, for all of the hard work that went into achieving this extended agreement, but we couldn't be more pleased and we couldn't be more excited about the opportunities, and as good as it is for the game, it's great for our fans because our distribution will continue to grow in unprecedented ways.

DICK EBERSOL: We're delighted. We're thrilled. There is absolutely nothing that fits the NBC Sports Group better on all platforms than the National Hockey League, between the national cable rights, the broadcast rights, the digital rights, and the fact that the NHL is a significant part of some of our strongest RSNs. It brings a strength to that entire platform or that group of platforms that nothing else can, and with it this deal brings such significant exclusivities that never existed before, not only in the regular season but in the post?season, which we can go into detail about in a few minutes.

But Gary in particular, I remember when I came back to the sports business at the end of the '80s to NBC, and NBC was at a very gray place. Baseball had left after all those years to go to CBS. We know that that didn't quite work out. But somewhere along the line, Ken and I in particular sat down with you and your then?boss, Mr. Stern at the NBA, but it was really you and Ken who hammered out that first deal which was the lynchpin to NBC Sports' growth over the almost the last quarter century.

Well, here as we embark on a whole new cruise with the joy of having all these platforms, you don't know how much fun it is finally to actually see and literally touch these sub fees, when for so long we haven't lived in that world, it's a lot of fun. I'm sure Gary was waiting for a long time for us to have access to it, as well.

But Gary, I have not had a better friend in big?time sports all this whole period of time than you, and I know Ken shares that feeling, as well. This is a particularly warm and happy moment for all of us. I want to thank our guys who are here with me; Mark Lazarus, who's in charge of the whole cable group at NBC Sports; Jon Litner, who has had a long involvement with hockey on a lot of different levels, including being here, but is the head of VERSUS, the head of all of our RSNs and a terrific television veteran; Jon Miller, who's been our secret weapon on so many deals for such a long time, but he along with one other person who's not here I'm going to talk about in a minute, have had so much to do with the day?to?day strength of our relationship with the NHL. It was Jon in particular with John Collins who took the Winter Classic and started it off and turned it into probably the single most successful new venture in the American pro sports landscape in a decade. And finally, a guy who is really the centerpiece of our passion for hockey, you can imagine where he is, he's up in Stamford getting ready for the Playoff games tonight, but Sam Flood, from the day that he took over the production of hockey on NBC has literally changed the way the game is seen in the United States, most visibly with Inside the Glass, which you all worked with him so carefully on, because there wasn't unanimity certainly amongst certain teams that we should have this kind of access down by the ice. But it's literally made hockey on television the most intimately produced event on all of television, certainly among all the major professional sports, and that really was Sam.

And you can see now in just the 75?odd days that we have been the managers of the production side of VERSUS, Sam in particular, has taken the coverage plan that's worked so well from NBC and totally seamlessly moved it over to VERSUS.

Last point, Gary, and there are no more details than what I'm going to say now, but you are the final impetus. We are no more than 90 days away from renaming VERSUS. Stay tuned, and I can tell you it will have somehow a strong utilization of the word NBC in the title, but I've waited a long time to publicly say that's going to happen, and I hope that that's as meaningful to you, your teams, your players, that based on this incredible deal, we are going to rename ourselves.
Q. Dick or Gary, can you indicate whether you're allocating rights fees to the NBC side or are they all on the VERSUS side?

DICK EBERSOL: Let me answer that. They're on both. We're not going to go into what they are. But our wonderful, for us, run of not paying anything for a number of years is over with this deal, and I know that that brings great happiness and pride to my friends to the right. But we are paying a substantial part of it. Not the majority, but we are paying a substantial part of it.

GARY BETTMAN: Let me just add to that: I never had any regrets about the deal that we had with NBC over the last six years. They have been extraordinary partners. They stood by us through a difficult time, and I think that they are deserving of tremendous credit for the positioning that we find ourselves in today as a sport and a media property. So the deal was never an issue from our standpoint.

Secondly, as far as we were concerned, it's one contract, and they can whack it up any way they want internally.

DICK EBERSOL: But that period of time gave us the opportunity to work with them and maximize the promotional tools that we had at NBC at the time. As Gary alluded earlier, stealing more than half of my material, the new company at NBC Universal represents 20 channels, 20 unique channels, covering a diversity that no other company has ever had, from significantly strong female channels to young channels, young adult channels, to the most powerful cable entertainment network in the world in the USA Network, CNBC, Telemundo. We have a way to talk to the audience that no one has ever had before. And these guys, their mouths are watering to get their hands on being identified, their Playoffs, as the event of the time of the week or the month across all those channels.

And those 40?plus digital channels he alluded to earlier, those are 43 digital channels that are reaching into over 125 million American homes every month -- unique homes, not repeat homes. So we have a way that no one has ever had before to do this. But back in the day, fresh from a whole series of tough circumstances, that deal that Gary made with us worked for us, put us in a position to build up a marketplace so that we knew, particularly on the pure advertising side so that we could together, because it was a revenue-sharing deal, that we could really build this up into a franchise that had pull on Madison Avenue.

And I think in particular John has only furthered that with some of the deals he's made, most recently with Miller Coors, so we've been on a wonderful ride together. There was sacrifice on both sides in the beginning, but this has paid off in a very big way for the National Hockey League, its teams, its owners and its players.
Q. Clearly this deal far exceeds the last deal with NBC VERSUS, so how does Comcast plan on making it pay off? How much more hockey will we have to show to make it worthwhile?

DICK EBERSOL: Well, the most important thing here is the exclusivity of the product. Let's start with the post?season because this is perhaps the most unique post?season that exists anywhere in sports. It's two months long. It absolutely vibrates with a passion.

And one of the competitors in this chase for the negotiation here has said indirectly to me, I didn't hear him directly say it, but he brought up that this has the most attractive young male demo, the Stanley Cup Playoffs ?? the whole Playoffs, the Final and the NHL Playoffs -- has the most attractive young male demo in the world, and the major advertisers know that today. So the first part of this deal is: every single playoff game is going to be seen on NBC cable, VERSUS, the NBC television network, or in cases that we'll talk about in a little while, other NBC channels; because as we do now, you'll see all the first?round games non?exclusively except the NBC games on the weekend. The second round of the playoffs is now exclusively on NBC and VERSUS.

And in the case of VERSUS, they're going to have ?? if you have four times seven, you have 28 potential games in the second round of the playoffs. 24 of them are going to be exclusively on national cable. The RSNs won't be there anymore. And four of them will be on the NBC television network. The third round continues as it is now; if you have a maximum of two seven?game series, or 14 games, 12 of them are going to be on VERSUS, two of them are going to be on NBC.  And then the Stanley Cup Final, if it goes seven games, five of them are on NBC and two of them are on VERSUS. So we have the market power we need both for Madison Avenue for advertising, and we clearly have it among the cable community with this level of exclusivity and the fact it's one?stop shopping.

Now throw in the fact that we have the streaming rights to all these regular?season games and all these post?season games, that's another thing that has great impact there.

Now, when you tie it in with the fact that in one third of our RSNs, we also have these teams ?? some of the better teams in the league, it just means that we have a commitment to hockey all year that we can sell across all these platforms. It's great, and having had six years of experimentation, where obviously the cable side, which I had nothing to do with, was paying a pretty damned good price, our free time is over, and I'm happy it's over because we learned together to sell. So I feel great.

By the way, in the regular season there are now a total of 90 games. In the past there were 77. But that's not the key thing. Of those 90 games, all of those 90 games are exclusive, either exclusive windows or exclusive games. In the past that number was 50, so that's an 80 percent increase in exclusivity in the regular season where these games will either air ?? half of them will air exclusively in windows where there is no hockey being played anywhere else, or the other half of them will be played ?? they'll be nationally telecast. They will be seen everywhere. Other games may be being played, but in the home markets those games will be seen, which wasn't necessarily the case in the past.

Again, exclusivity; exclusivity with such an attractive young male appeal sport, you can't beat it.
Q. You're actually mentioning all the other channels you have access to now. Are you approaching these talks, not just this one but other talks with other entities in a different way than you ever have in the past, and can you talk about that approach given the access?

DICK EBERSOL: All I'll say is that these three men and their staff have been our friends and our colleagues for a long time, so I'm not including them in this, but there is an attractiveness now to NBC Universal largely because of the presence of our parent company and its inordinate success as a national distributor, and more importantly in the sports business with the RSNs, with The Golf Channel and with VERSUS, which has had amazing growth in a short period of time, when you consider that it hasn't really gotten up to speed with many major properties other than the National Hockey League, and that's coming.
Q. Gary, this question is for you. Obviously fans have been very interested in these TV negotiations. Can you explain in regards to the rest of the competition that was out there, was this about the money, the partnership? Why is this right?

GARY BETTMAN: This is right across all factors that you would consider, not the least of which is the tremendous relationship we have with Dick and NBC and the guys at VERSUS – and, on a broader level, Comcast. When we looked at the entire package and the relationship to us, it was clear that we were going to be with the incumbent.

DICK EBERSOL: But it was nice to go out and find out that there's so many people who thought you were pretty, right?

GARY BETTMAN: It's always nice to feel pretty.
Q. Dick, this is the first deal that you've done with Comcast. Can you talk about how different that experience was compared to GE?

DICK EBERSOL: You know, that's a really interesting question because a lot of people presupposed that there was something hard about dealing with GE. There wasn't for us. For the 21 years that they were our pure boss ?? they're still there, by the way; they own 49 percent of NBC Universal. Comcast has 51 percent and the controlling interest. Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt were the people more than anybody else who largely allowed us to develop the reputation we had because they so often believed in us and put enormous amounts of money out there. I mean, when we sat together, many of the people in this room, I think, in November of '89 and announced that first NBA deal, that was more than a trebling of the rights at the time, and there were those who thought we were insane. And those first two NBA deals were probably the best two deals ever made in our business for both sides. I mean, the NBA exploded, and we made a very, very dandy profit and got to run the NBA in one of the hottest times that any professional sports league has ever had, and that came from Jack Welch believing in us.

The same thing has been true with our Olympic relationship. It was certainly true with Jeff Immelt in 2005 when I first came back to work after being away for four months and said to him, I had a real plan for what would be Sunday Night Football and how it could become the single most popular place for football in the United States.

There weren't a lot of believers, and the two, or actually three who mattered the most were Jim Immelt from day one, and on the other side of the coin, Paul Tagliabue, Steve Bornstein and Pat Bowlen. Nobody else did. Madison Avenue didn't believe that the Sunday Night package would become the preeminent package. So again, it all started with incredible support on that watch.

The Comcast experience is a unique one and a very positive one that particularly Kenny and I have talked about a lot, and it's because, first of all, you're dealing with guys ?? this is their only business, so you have them ?? you have much more access to them all the time. GE was and is the most expanded sort of company in the entire business world, not just the United States, and the conversations we have with Steve Burke and Brian Roberts and Mike Angelakis, who's their CFO, are extraordinary because they really are an ongoing thing. They are looking to make sure that every aspect has been evaluated that we're going to make money, and I don't ever believe I'm ever going to be let out of the building unless we can show them we're going to make money.

But the process is different. But I didn't find anything wrong with the previous process. It certainly served most of us well and gave us really successful careers and comfortable lives during that time, and I see the same thing happening now with Comcast. I just have to live in an area where there's Comcast service so I can get free cable like the other Comcast employees who live in a Comcast area.
Q. Gary, how do you respond to the conceit that a sport must be carried on an ESPN property to be a major television player in the United States?

GARY BETTMAN: I think everybody has enormous respect for ESPN, but six years ago we chose to go in a different direction for a variety of reasons, and we believe it's worked out well for us. And the promise of what NBC Universal/Comcast I think is extraordinarily exciting. You've heard Dick talk about the plans and the focus. This for us is a great place to be, and I think our fans over the last six years, obviously they knew how to find NBC, but VERSUS' coverage of our game has been extraordinary, and hockey fans and sports fans have found it and actually have been telling us on a regular basis that they think the coverage is terrific. And I think it's only going to get better.

I think it's a big world, and there are a lot of things out there, and I think this collaboration will have a very prominent place in that world.

DICK EBERSOL: You know, as the only major property that VERSUS had for quite some period of time, I think they did a remarkable job of building up interest in the National Hockey League at a time when a lot of people didn't think that was going to happen. And I remember saying to Gary about two years ago when somebody was questioning one of the owners as a matter of fact, was questioning VERSUS versus ESPN ?? and ESPN in my opinion is the strongest sports operation not only today in the United States; it's the strongest sports operation that's ever existed on earth. But they have a lot of properties. And what VERSUS did all by itself was give an enormous commitment across all of those Comcast platforms to the National Hockey League, and over that period of time, they were a substantial part of why television ratings have grown over 80 percent in the last four years.

Their stewardship of their responsibility toward the National Hockey League was really a strong and robust one, and none of us on the NBC side had anything to do with it. I think that sometimes you benefit by being the only child. Now, that's not going to be the case going forward, but it doesn't matter because Gary (Bettman) and Bill (Daly) and John (Collins) know what our commitment is to their sport, and when we have brothers and sisters for the National Hockey League, which will be soon, we are really never going to lessen our support and our commitment to the National Hockey League.
Q. Dick, you alluded to the fact that the Stanley Cup telecast will all be broadcast on one of the various NBC platforms. Can you give us an idea of what it might be if it's not VERSUS? Where else will we be able to find the secondary games?

DICK EBERSOL: It'll be on ?? you're talking about the Stanley Cup Final?
Q. Yes, sir.

DICK EBERSOL: The Stanley Cup Final Games 3 and 4 will be on VERSUS; Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 if necessary will be on NBC.
Q. What I meant was starting next year when you begin ??

DICK EBERSOL: Oh, in the second round? Sure. Well, they'll be on VERSUS, they'll be on NBC, and where scheduling anomalies exist -- I think are the words that were fed to me for this press conference -- it'll be on other major NBC Universal cable channels. All the games are going to be on a major NBC Universal cable channel, national cable channel.

And this was something really, really important to the league. I mean, this is a perfect meeting of long?held television desires, but in the final stages when we got back together again, because there was a period where they were free to go out and show their wares and see how pretty the rest of the world felt they were, and indeed they did, out of this came I think from everybody who was seeking a deal with the NHL, they wanted an expanded, exclusive playoff relationship where all the games would be visible on the platforms of one company or another.

And I think in this particular juncture this is a perfect marriage for us, but I see more and more deals coming down the road like that, whether with us or with others.
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