NBC Sports routinely garners the highest NFL ratings of the season on its tentpole channel, but the dedicated sports network that bears its name will reportedly end in 2021.
John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reported on Friday that NBC plans to shutter NBC Sports Network, a huge move in the sports world that would see several sports leagues broadcast elsewhere among the company’s network of channels. The network, which began its life as a sports channel billed as Outdoor Life Network when NBC started broadcasting NHL games on it, had grown to cover a variety of sports including the English Premiere League, college basketball and NASCAR.
But Friday word rocked the sports world that the network would soon be no more, leaving uncertainty about where those broadcasts would be shown instead and what would happen to the broadcast teams viewers grew to expect covering them.
NBC has told distributors and some sports leagues that it plans to shut down its NBCSN sports channel by the end of the year. Story coming in SBD
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) January 22, 2021
Further reporting brought things more into focus: NBCSN would shutter, with broadcasts for the NHL, NASCAR and others moving to USA.
NBC Sports Network is shutting down later this year and big events (NHL and NASCAR among them) will migrate to USA Network. Story coming ASAP.
— Joe Flint (@JBFlint) January 22, 2021
NHL games will be migrating over to USA Network. https://t.co/A2tYyLa9MG
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) January 22, 2021
The fear from many about NBC shuffling things around is that they would shelter more sports content on Peacock, the streaming service that has already taken many English Premiere League soccer matches away from broadcast television since it launched. According to the SBD story, though, the big impact will likely be with the NHL, which helped solidify its place in the sports scene when it rebranded.
The big question is how a league like the NHL reacts to the shutting down of a network that has carried its games for the past 15 years. The NHL’s deal with NBC ends after this season. The NHL has made it clear that it wants to split its rights between at least two TV outlets. NBC has told the NHL that it would carve out regular windows on its broadcast channel and USA Network, which is in 86.2 million homes, plus Peacock.
NBC’s other sports channels, Golf Channel and the Olympic Channel, will not be affected, sources said. Last year, Golf Channel moved its operations from Orlando to NBC Sports’ headquarters in Stamford, Conn. Last week, NBC announced that Peacock would carry speed skating on a premium tier — content that in the past would have been on both NBCSN and Olympic Channel.
Putting sports on USA Network isn’t new, of course: Olympics coverage would often wind up on the network as well as some EPL matches on big days, and overflow sports broadcasts would also end up there if games in progress did not end in time.
1. USA Network helps the NHL grow its audience. Something that should have happened years ago. So maybe USA+Peacock?
2. Where the hell am I going to watch classic car auctions from 2 years ago after I forget to change the channel after the game?
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) January 22, 2021
Still, it’s a troubling move for sports fans and those in the sports entertainment industry, and there’s now plenty of uncertainty about big contracts with leagues like the NHL and NASCAR moving forward. And as other companies make strategic decisions with the growth of their streaming services in mind, it’s hard not to frame the decision to shutter NBCSN as more of the same.
As of the beginning of the pandemic NBCSN was in around 80 million homes and had a sub fee a bit above $.40, meaning it was making NBC ~$400 million annually before advertising is taken into account. That’s a loooooot of money to give up to drive Peacock subscriptions. https://t.co/FTNvT49cVo
— Kevin Draper (@kevinmdraper) January 22, 2021