Declaring it the “best strategic next step” for parent NBCUniversal, NBC Sports Network will be shut down by the end of 2021, with its cadre of live sports programming already beginning to migrate to the sister USA Network and streaming service Peacock.
Known for its coverage of the NHL, English Premier League soccer, NASCAR, and the Tour de France, NBCSN appears the latest domino in cable consolidation and the coronavirus, as well as cable carriers fighting back against the high per subscriber fees for sports networks. (YouTube TV, for example, has dropped myriad regional sports networks in the past year, including NESN in October.)
First reported by Sports Business Journal, which noted major carriers Charter and Dish Network are not under contract to carry NBCSN after this year, NBCUniversal plans to move much of its major coverage to USA, which is in 86.2 million homes, more than NBCSN’s 80.6 million. ESPN is in 83.1 million homes, according to the Associated Press, and Fox sports-specific network FS1 in 80.2 million.
NBCSN averaged 233,000 prime-time viewers last year, down from 411,000 in 2018, according to Nielsen data reported by Bloomberg. ESPN was at 1.48 million nightly viewers last year and 1.96 million in 2018.
There are 175 Premier League games airing on a paid middle tier on Peacock this season, with last weekend’s major match between Liverpool and Manchester United the most notable to only be available on the service, launched last year.
“We’re all aware of how quickly the media landscape is evolving, and our company is taking thoughtful steps to stay ahead of these trends wherever possible and, in many instances, help set them,” said NBC Sports chairman Pete Bevacqua in an internal memo.
Bevacqua said in the memo that Stanley Cup playoff games and NASCAR races would be moving to USA Network this year. USA Network has been airing early-round playoff games since 2012.
NBC’s 10-year broadcast deal with the NHL ends after this season, the league hoping for an increase on the $200 million per year it currently receives. The sides are hopeful to continue their agreement, which dates to the 2005-06 season, with SBJ reporting NBC has told the league it would carve out regular windows on its broadcast channel, USA, and Peacock.
The NHL is reportedly considering splitting its rights as other major leagues have, with former rightsholders ESPN and Fox in the mix, plus possible interest from streaming services.
Negotiations for the EPL rights, beginning with the 2022-23 season, are ongoing. Premier League deals are usually for three years, but NBC secured a six-year package in 2015 by paying nearly $1 billion.
NASCAR, which has its races from July through November on NBC and NBCSN, has a deal through 2024.
IndyCar’s contract, which includes the Indianapolis 500 on NBC, expires at the end of this year. The sanctioning body said in a statement that NBC “has always been a transparent partner, and we were aware of this upcoming strategy shift.”
NBCSN was born as the Outdoor Life Network in July 1995, acquiring the rights to the Tour de France in 1999 — the same year Lance Armstrong won the first of his seven straight titles. The network was rebranded as Versus in September 2006, then as NBC Sports Network on New Year’s Day, 2012.
NBCUniversal went through a massive layoff last year across its sports division, with nearly 20 losses just at NBC Sports Boston.
According to the memo, fellow NBCUniversal sports networks Golf Channel (which was relocated from Orlando to NBC headquarters in Stamford, Conn., last summer) and Olympic Channel will remain on air.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.