The offspring of Comcast and NBC Sports’ blessed union has arrived at last. After many months of anticipation, Versus has faded into history and NBC Sports Network is here.
Cue the chimes: Bing-bong-biiiiinnnnng.
Plenty of hype has gone into the launch of the channel, as the Comcast/Peacock alliance has blanketed the airwaves with ads featuring American soccer hero Landon Donovan talking about how a team comes together and the Russian-accented thoughts of hockey superstar Alex Ovechkin on how “only perfect practice makes perfect.”
Then there’s been the programming, which has been boosted in recent months. As more NBC Sports talent has emerged on the channel, more NBC-driven shows have hit the air like NFL Turning Point, NBC SportsTalk and even an offering that focuses on the business of sports, CNBC SportsBiz: Game On.
This is just the beginning, of course. But while NBC has a long climb ahead, it’s got high hopes.
Helping the network along will be the IZOD IndyCar Series, which finds itself in a strange situation. On the sport’s cable television side is the upstart NBC Sports Network, which is out to challenge, eventually, the almighty empire of…the sport’s broadcast television partner, ESPN/ABC.
Just as much as NBC Sports has to work to build their brand (the NBC Sports Network is the channel’s second relaunch in just six years; its first incarnation, Outdoor Life Network, became the more mainstream-focused Versus in 2006), INDYCAR still has to build theirs as well.
NBC needs to see INDYCAR prove itself on its own merits before it decides to push the sport alongside its bigger entities like the NFL, NHL, Olympic Games, PGA Tour, and, their most recent pick-up of note, Major League Soccer.
Luckily for INDYCAR, its CEO, Randy Bernard, is focused on seeing the TV ratings rise and last year, they did. The series netted a 28 percent viewership gain over 2010 numbers, with races on Versus getting a jump of 10 percent on an average of 402,000 viewers per race. That may or may not completely impress NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus and the rest of his team in New York, but the arrow is pointing up. It needs to stay that way.
Will the rebrand help increase the numbers in 2012? Bernard certainly hopes so, as do many people within the INDYCAR world. Where the sport fits in the initial pecking order for NBC Sports Network will play a role in whether that comes to pass. And if INDYCAR finds itself in a low spot on that order, it must use that as an incentive to do what they can to increase awareness of their product.
What do you think of the new NBC Sports network?
-- Read more from Chris Estrada and follow him @EstradaWriting