NLL gets boost from U.S. TV deal

RYAN WOLSTAT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:10 AM ET

Not satisfied with being the outlet for just one of Canada's national sports, Versus, currently known as the Outdoor Life Network, scooped up the U.S. broadcast rights to the other one yesterday.

Versus, which just completed the first year of a three-year deal with the National Hockey League, has joined forces with the National Lacrosse League and will show 16 games this coming season, starting in January.

The games will air on Saturday nights, largely in prime time on the West Coast and 10 p.m. in the east.

The move, coupled with the prior NHL deal, is part of a strategy by Versus to re-brand itself as a major sports network. OLN will become Versus in September.

The channel is the U.S. home of properties such as the Tour de France, the America's Cup, the Arena Football League and the Davis Cup.

OLN Canada will stick with its current name and will not air any NLL games.

NLL commissioner Jim Jennings would not divulge financial details of the pact, but called the agreement one of the most important announcements of his six years with the league. Jennings also said Versus would be given all access, meaning players, coaches and possibly referees will wear microphones and cameras will be allowed in dressing rooms.

Victoria Quoss, vice-president of programming for Versus, said NLL players have great stories to tell and the agreement will allow viewers to get "up close and personal access that you can't get with other sports."

OLN/Versus is available in more than 69 million American homes, roughly five million more than when it signed its NHL deal last summer.

This is the league's first weekly American TV deal. Jennings said the two sides will continue to discuss adding playoff coverage. In 2005, NBC aired the NLL final.


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