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Fast-growing Versus broadcasting live from Philly

Tonight, millions of hockey fans across the country will tune into Versus to watch the Flyers take on the Blackhawks in Game 3 of the 2010 Stanley Cup finals.

Tonight, millions of hockey fans across the country will tune into Versus to watch the Flyers take on the Blackhawks in Game 3 of the 2010 Stanley Cup finals.

Versus, which also will broadcast Game 4 on Friday, is the fastest growing national sports cable network since 2007. It can be found in more than 75 million homes. It is owned by Comcast and for the last 2 years has been based at the Comcast Center in Philadelphia. Versus' hockey studios remain in its previous headquarters in Stamford, Conn.

"There's always a benefit to being in a fantastic sports town, and Philadelphia is exactly that," Versus president Jamie Davis said. "By being there we have the ability to attract talented staff, who are interested in sports. Philadelphia, being a passionate sports town, has a ton of talent. In fact, about 60 percent of the 120-man staff we hired 2 years ago was brought in locally from Philadelphia."

Formerly the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), Versus, which rebranded itself 3 1/2 years ago, became the home of the NHL after the lockout in 2004-05. Now in the fifth year of a 6-year deal (the amount of the contract was not disclosed), Versus has seen ratings skyrocket in its partnership with the league. During the first two rounds of the playoffs, Versus averaged 775,000 viewers, making it the most watched first two rounds on cable since NHL playoff viewership numbers became available by Nielsen in the 1993-94 season.

"Locally in Philly our numbers are going through the roof," said Davis, citing the 15.1 rating for Game 5 between the Flyers and Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals. "It shows how far our network has come, being able to deliver those ratings as a young brand.

"The NHL has been and continues to be a fantastic partner for the network . . . [The NHL was] coming out of their work stoppage, so everyone said the NHL was dead. But we partnered with them and worked together as 'true partners,' meaning that we wanted to build up Versus and they want to build up their sport. And as the numbers suggest, it's been a great success."

According to Davis, the top reason for the annual boost in ratings has been what he calls "super-serving the fan."

"It's something no one else has ever done," he said. "Once the playoffs start, we do double-, triple- and sometimes quadruple-headers in a night. And they've been coming every single night."

Of course, "super-serving the fan" also includes having an extensive pregame and postgame show, which, for the first time, will be live from the Wachovia Center for Games 3 and 4.

"We like for the finals to bring the studio on site to capture the energy of the stadium," said Davis, noting that guests for the shows will include Bernie Parent, Mark Messier and commissioner Gary Bettman.

As far as the future of Versus carrying NHL games, Davis said: "We'll have conversations after the season. When we're in-season, we want to make the viewers our No. 1 priority. I'm confident that we'll be able to have fruitful conversations going forward."

Davis, who is from Chicago, wasn't about to divulge who he wants to win the Stanley Cup.

"I've been in this business for a long time," Davis said with a chuckle. "And I root for two things: close games and long series. To me, that's the ideal scenario more than anything else." *