Since 2012, the American cable television network NBCSN has aired a variety of sports leagues thanks to their contracts with NBCUniversal. Besides stick-and-ball sports like the Premier League and NHL, the network also airs numerous racing leagues like the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series, the IndyCar Series, and IMSA. However, things will come to a close as reports have surfaced that NBCUniversal intends to shut down the station, with the aforementioned series having their races moved to other networks in the NBC family such as USA Network and the Peacock streaming service. A memo from NBC Sports chairman Pete Bevacqua was sent to employees and publicised shortly after the reports.
Compared to its fellow sports-centric cable networks like FS1 and ESPN, NBCSN is fairly cheap for TV carriers to run. According to a March 2017 article by the Sports Business Journal‘s John Ourand, NBCSN is only 30 cents per subscriber each month compared to FS1’s $1.30 and ESPN’s $7.89, though FS1 and ESPN also have larger television deals.
“NBC has told distributors and some sports leagues that it plans to shut down its NBCSN sports channel by the end of the year,” wrote Ourand. “NBC’s most recent affiliate deals with Charter and Dish Network do not include carriage for NBCSN beyond this year, sources said. Plus, sports leagues that have deals with NBC were being told of the changes this week.
“The move is in line with the current media trend of consolidating cable channels. For NBC, it also is part of a bigger strategy to grow its Peacock streaming service, while, at the same time, bolstering the programming schedule for other NBC channels like USA Network. Bigger properties, like the NHL, NASCAR and EPL, will move to USA Network while keeping some windows on the broadcast channel. Smaller properties, like car shows, dog shows and some motorsports, will have to find new linear TV outlets.”
NBC began broadcasting NASCAR in 2015 after rejoining the sanctioning body’s TV deal for the first time in nearly a decade, airing races both over-the-air on NBC and on NBCSN. While the Camping World Truck Series remains exclusively on Fox/FS1, NBC takes over the Cup and Xfinity schedules from Fox as the season crosses the halfway point in the summer; for 2021, the network transfer takes place after the All-Star Race in mid-June. NBCSN will air twelve of the remaining twenty races, inclduing the first four playoff events. NASCAR’s regional series and programming like NASCAR America are also on the cable station.
Like IndyCar, with whom it shares some companion dates, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is exclusively broadcast by NBC and NBCSN. Much of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona will be on the latter, as will its qualifying race taking place on Sunday.
“We are committed to ensuring that NASCAR and IMSA races are carried and distributed smartly to our broad and loyal fan base,” NASCAR stated. “NBC is a best-in-class partner and we will work together to ensure continued high quality delivery of our events now and in the future.”
Meanwhile, IndyCar has been on NBC and NBCSN’s predecessor Versus since 2009. The broadcast schedule for 2021 features seven races on NBCSN beginning with the Texas doubleheader in early May and ending at Gateway in August. Races like the Indianapolis 500 remain over-the-air, as has been the case since the decades under ABC broadcasting. Also in the realm of open-wheel racing, Formula One broadcasts in the United States were in the NBC umbrella from 2013 to ESPN’s takeover after 2017.
“NBC has always been a transparent partner & we were aware of this upcoming strategy shift,” read an IndyCar statement. “Our 2021 broadcast schedule isn’t impacted by this decision. We plan to discuss our future broadcast arrangements in the late spring.”
The following Monday, IndyCar announced that all weekend sessions like qualifying and practice will be moved to Peacock Premium from NBC Sports Gold. Indy Lights races and main series replays will also be held on the service. However, live races will continue to be on NBC and NBCSN through the 2021 season.
“Peacock Premium will offer NTT IndyCar Series fans in-demand track action at tremendous value,” Penske Entertainment head Mark Miles said. “Alongside NBC Sports, we’re providing comprehensive coverage of practice and qualifications throughout our season, while also connecting to a larger platform with a world-class roster of programming.”
While it also airs other sports, NBCSN has served as a spiritual successor of sort to Fox’s SPEED, which became FS1 in 2013, as the American home for motorsports. Motorcycle racing series like MotoGP, MotoAmerica, and the Superbike World Championship are also NBC Sports properties, and other series to have had live events on NBCSN include Red Bull Global Rallycross and Monster Jam. Various series have also been aired tape delayed on NBCSN including ARCA, Formula 2, and off-road series like the Stadium Super Trucks and TORC.
With NBCSN’s demise, sports will be heading elsewhere in the NBC chain such as the subscription-based NBC Sports Gold and Peacock, and especially fellow cable station USA Network. Founded in 1980, USA briefly assumed NASCAR broadcast duties in 2016 while NBC and NBCSN were covering the Summer Olympics. USA is also available in more cable-owning households than NBCSN.
“USA Network is in 86.2 million homes. NBCSN is in 80.6 million homes,” tweeted Ourand. “NBC is telling bigger leagues that the move to USA will increase their viewership.”
Peacock, which launched last spring, features some non-televised Premier League matches. In regards to racing programming, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. hosts his Lost Speedways series on the service. Schedule conflicts have also occasionally resulted in NASCAR and IndyCar having races on the business-focused CNBC, though considering its scope, it will obviously not be a regular option.
“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,” began the memo from Bevacqua.
“As evidence of our strong commitment to live sports programming, we recently transitioned all of GOLF Channel’s linear studio productions to Stamford, and we’re producing multiple new programs for Peacock and other platforms in Stamford as well. In addition, we’re doing more in partnership with our colleagues at Telemundo and Sky Sports.
“Commencing later this year, USA Network will begin carrying and/or simulcasting certain NBC Sports programming, including NHL Stanley Cup Playoff games and NASCAR races, as part of a larger transition within the Company.
“At the conclusion of 2021, we have decided that the best strategic next step for our Sports Group and the entire Company is to wind down NBCSN completely, with key elements of NBCSN’s programming moving to USA Network and, in some cases, Peacock for 2022 and beyond.
“This will make USA Network an extraordinarily powerful platform in the media marketplace, and gives our sports programming a significant audience boost. We believe that the power of this offering is the best long-term strategy for our Sports Group, our partners, and our Company.
“This transition, combined with our robust portfolio of assets, including GOLF Channel, The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, RSNs, SportsEngine, GolfNow, digital, audio, sports betting and gaming, puts us in an even stronger position as leaders in the sports media space and to continue to grow our business.”