|Picture format||1080i HDTV|
(downscaled to letterboxed 480i for the SDTV feed)
|Parent||NBC Sports Group|
NBC Sports Regional Networks
|Launched||July 31, 1995|
|Closed||December 31, 2021|
(26 years, 153 days)
|Former names||Outdoor Life Network|
NBC Sports Network
NBCSN was an American sports television channel owned by the NBC Sports Group division of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. It originally launched on July 1, 1995, as the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), which was dedicated to programming primarily involving fishing, hunting, outdoor adventure programs, and outdoor sports. By the turn of the 21st century, OLN became better known for its extensive coverage of the Tour de France but eventually began covering more "mainstream" sporting events, resulting in its relaunch as Versus in September 2006.
In 2011, Comcast, the original owner of the network, acquired a majority stake in NBCUniversal. As a result, Comcast merged the operations of its pay channels with those of NBC. In particular, it aligned the operation of its sports channels with NBC's sports division, NBC Sports. On January 1, 2012, Versus was rebranded as the NBC Sports Network. The branding was later shortened to NBCSN. By September 15, 2014, most of NBC Sports' operations, including NBCSN, had been moved to facilities in Stamford, Connecticut.
As of February 2020, NBCSN was distributed to 79.879 million homes and was the second most watched cable sports network besides ESPN (though some sources included ESPN2 as a separate network in those figures). On January 22, 2021, NBCUniversal announced that the network would cease operations by the end of the year. NBCSN ceased operations on December 31, 2021, with its sports properties moved to USA Network, Peacock, and other NBCUniversal networks.
The channel originally launched as the Outdoor Life Network (or OLN) on July 31, 1995; the name was licensed from Outdoor Life magazine. Its programming consisted of hunting, fishing, and outdoor adventure shows. In its early days, the channel reached around one million homes and found most of its carriage via the then-infant platforms of direct broadcast satellite services and digital cable. The network was one of two (the other being Speedvision) formed out of a partnership of Cox Cable and Times Mirror which had combined their cable systems operations a year earlier. Outdoor Life was originally planned to have launched at the beginning of July 1995. However, it was delayed when Times Mirror decided to reassess its media holdings. Times Mirror decided to reduce its stake in the two new networks to 10%; bringing Comcast and Continental Cablevision on as partners. The network initially had trouble gaining carriage and was also broadcast on several low power television stations.
In 1999, OLN acquired the U.S. broadcast rights to the Tour de France for US$3 million. Coverage of the Tour on OLN brought substantially greater viewership to the then fledgling channel, due in part to the then-growing popularity of American rider Lance Armstrong. In 2004, where Armstrong would aim for a record-breaking sixth straight Tour de France title, OLN would devote over 344 hours in July to coverage of the Tour, along with documentaries and other original programming surrounding the event – which was promoted through a $20 million advertising campaign.
Overall, while its coverage of the Tour de France helped OLN expand its carriage to over 60 million homes, rumors surrounding Armstrong's possible retirement from racing led to concerns over OLN's emphasis on him (to the point that some critics referred to OLN as standing for "Only Lance Network"), with critics questioning whether the network could sustain itself without the viewership that Lance Armstrong's presence had brought to its coverage.
Following the 2005 Tour (where Armstrong captured his seventh victory in the race, and announced his retirement from cycling afterward), OLN debuted a new lineup of programming–led by the acquisition of off-network reruns of the reality competition series Survivor. OLN's executives believed that bringing Survivor into its lineup would fit well with the new direction it had planned for OLN, and could attract viewership from fans of the show who had watched it on CBS, though it was also the first example to prove that traditional repeats of reality competitions with the results already known was an unviable strategy.
Around the same period, OLN also acquired the rights to the Dakar Rally, America's Cup, the Boston Marathon, and the Iditarod. OLN planned to cover these events in a similar style to how it covered the Tour, hoping that its coverage might bring "surprise" results for the channel. Due in part to Lance's absence from the Tour in 2006, its ratings for live coverage of the first four stages of the race drew in 49% fewer viewers than previous years.
In May 2005, ESPN rejected a $60 million offer to renew its broadcasting contract with the National Hockey League into the 2005-06 NHL season, and the league rejected its alternate proposal for a revenue sharing agreement similar to the one it had established with NBC. With the NFL also shopping a new late-season package of Thursday and Saturday night games to potential broadcasters, speculation began to surface that Comcast would bid on the new NHL contract as its first step to transforming OLN into a mainstream sports channel that could compete with ESPN. Comcast had already been involved in NHL broadcasting; at the time, it owned majority control of the Philadelphia Flyers, and four Comcast SportsNet regional sports networks.
In August 2005, ESPN declined to match Comcast's offer, and OLN acquired pay television rights to the NHL beginning in the 2005–2006 season in a three-year deal worth close to $200 million. The new deal would include 58 regular season games on Monday and Tuesday nights, coverage of the NHL All-Star Game, conference finals, and the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals. With the help of its new NHL package, by June 2006, OLN had now reached 75 million subscribers. However, due in part to OLN's lesser carriage in comparison to ESPN, the NHL's ratings that season had suffered in comparison.
In 2006, OLN broadcast selected games in the Arena Football League's 2006 season. The channel televised a weekly regular-season game for 11 weeks as well as a wild card playoff game. However, the agreement was not renewed and was later picked up by ESPN, who also acquired a minority stake in the league's ownership.
In April 2006, Comcast announced that it would be renaming Outdoor Life Network to Versus in the fall of 2006. As the network had shifted beyond simply "outdoor" programming, the name "Versus" was intended to represent the common element of competition within its lineup. OLN's re-launch as Versus occurred on September 25, 2006.
Among the new programming acquired by Versus was a number of combat sports, beginning with a series of boxing programs promoted by Bob Arum's Top Rank promotion. The channel also began televising Chuck Norris's World Combat League, a kickboxing promotion featuring a unique round ring without ropes. Versus entered into a partnership with World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) to bring mixed martial arts events to the channel, with the first being broadcast live on June 3, 2007. Versus aired all the WEC events, except for WEC 48, which aired on pay-per-view, with live preliminary fights being aired on Spike TV.
The channel also added a variety of sports events as part of the rebranding, including men's and women's college basketball, high school basketball, a weekly "game of the week" for the National Lacrosse League, darts competitions, the Major Indoor Soccer League, and the USA Sevens, one of the nine tournaments (then eight) that make up the IRB Sevens World Series, the top annual circuit in the sevens version of rugby union.
In addition, Versus also added a package of college football games to its lineup, with games from the Mountain West Conference, Pac-10 (now Pac-12) and Big 12 conferences. totaling 19 scheduled college football games on the channel during 2007.
Versus secured coverage for the 2007 America's Cup, which had been a staple on ESPN and ESPN2 for years. The channel began to show qualifying regattas in late 2005, aired the Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers in 2007, and the America's Cup match between the Louis Vuitton winner and current champions, won by Alinghi of Switzerland in Valencia, Spain. In 2006, it picked up American broadcast rights (in conjunction with The Tennis Channel) of Davis Cup events.
Versus, with NBC Sports and the World Championship Sports Network (later Universal Sports), broadcast coverage of the 2007 World Championships in Athletics from Osaka, Japan, as well as the 2009 World Championships in Athletics from Berlin, Germany.
On January 28, 2008, Versus and the NHL extended their television contract through the 2010–11 season. In June 2008, operations were moved from Stamford, Connecticut, to Comcast's headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On August 7, 2008, the channel announced a 10-year deal with the Indy Racing League to broadcast at least 13 IndyCar Series events a year in HD, beginning in 2009. The channel would also broadcast various motorsports series on its Lucas Oil Motorsports Hour program such as USAC, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, and World Series of Off-Road Racing.
The channel aired the 96th Grey Cup, the championship game of the Canadian Football League in 2008.
The channel began airing games from the United Football League in 2009. The first season Championship aired on November 27, 2009. The UFL would return to the channel for a second season in 2010.
On April 5, 2010, Versus debuted The Daily Line, a sports betting show consisting of a four-person panel (host Liam McHugh before moving to NBC Sports, handicapper Rob DeAngelis, comedian Reese Waters, and Jenn Sterger) who discussed, often with heavy satire, sports-related topics that were popular that day. However, the show was cancelled due to low viewership on November 4, 2010. It was revived by NBC Sports Radio in 2019 after the PASPA Act was declared unconstitutional, though NBCSN instead blended betting content into regular programming.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship would air two live events on the channel due to the new contract agreement with UFC sister promotion World Extreme Cagefighting. The first edition of UFC on Versus aired on March 21, 2010, headlined by Brandon Vera vs. Jon Jones in the Light Heavyweight division. The second event aired on August 1 with Jon Jones facing Vladimir Matyushenko. Also as part of the agreement with the UFC, several UFC Countdown shows would air. A countdown show aired the week of a pay-per-view event, usually lasting for one hour, and covering 2–3 of the biggest fights on the card. In August 2011, the UFC announced a new broadcasting deal with the channels of rival Fox Sports, which would begin to take effect in November 2011.
Versus had also struck a deal with the NBA to air 10 regular season NBA Development League Saturday night games, as well as six playoff games a year. In total, the channel would air 16 NBA Development League games, in addition to 25 hours of NBA specials.
Starting in August 2010, Versus aired nine races of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour each Wednesday at 7 p.m. The races originated from a variety of locations, including Stafford Motor Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, and Thompson Motor Speedway.
In February 2011, Comcast acquired a majority stake in NBC Universal, and merged its content operations into the company. As part of the acquisition, Versus and Comcast's other sports channels began to be integrated into the NBC Sports division. Coinciding with the merger, President Jamie Davis was replaced by Comcast Sports Group president Jon Litner. Litner began to oversee the channel, in addition to his other duties following the Comcast takeover.
In March 2011, Versus expanded its college football coverage by becoming the pay-TV partner for NBC's coverage of Notre Dame football, airing replays of Notre Dame games, and the first ever live broadcast of the team's annual spring game. Its coverage began with a marathon of three classic Fighting Irish games on March 17, St. Patrick's Day, to serve as a prelude to its coverage of the spring game.
For the 2011 season, Versus also returned to airing National Lacrosse League telecasts with a nine-game package, starting with the 2011 All-Star Game and culminating with the Champion's Cup final. Versus would drop the NLL for the league's 2012 season; U.S. broadcast rights were instead picked up by CBS Sports Network.
In April 2011, NBC Sports and Versus announced they had reached a ten-year extension to their television contract with the National Hockey League worth nearly $2 billion over the life of the contract. As part of the announcement, Dick Ebersol, the former chairman of NBC Sports, said that Versus would be renamed "within 90 days" in order to reflect the synergy resulting from the merger. However, the announcement of a new name did not come until August 1, 2011, when Comcast announced that Versus would be relaunched as the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) on January 1, 2012. The relaunch coincided with NBC's coverage of the NHL Winter Classic, which took place on the same day.
In an interview with TV Guide, president of programming Jon Miller stated that NBCSN was to be positioned as a credible "full-service sports network", dropping low-brow programming (such as Whacked Out Sports and The T.Ocho Show) in favor of focusing on event coverage, and sports news and talk programs, including new original programming. NBC also made efforts to expand its current broadcasting relationships and acquire new rights for additional sports events to be broadcast on the channel. In the months leading up to the relaunch, NBC struck deals with Major League Soccer, dropped the UFL, and added coverage of college hockey games.
On June 6, 2011, it was revealed that NBC Sports would extend its rights to the Olympic Games through 2020, outbidding competing bids by Fox Sports and ESPN in a $4.38 billion contract. The network began to participate in NBC's overall coverage beginning at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Its coverage of the gold medal game between the United States and Japan in women's soccer set a new viewership record for the network, with 4.35 million viewers.
Almost immediately after the rebrand, the shortened moniker "NBCSN" began to be used in TV listings to refer to the network. In July 2013, the network announced its intention to use this abbreviation on an official basis. On August 18, 2013, commentators and graphics began to refer to the network as "NBCSN". The change was made to help streamline its branding in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics, by which time the name change was mostly complete.
On September 22, 2013, NBCSN broadcast an episode of Under Wild Skies—a hunting program aired as a time-buy by the National Rifle Association of America—in which host and NRA lobbyist Tony Makris was shown killing an African elephant on a trip to Botswana. The network was criticized by the media for airing such material; while NBC responded by pulling the episode due to its "objectionable" content and stating that it would be more "aggressive" towards the content of future episodes of the program. Under Wild Skies was pulled from the network entirely after Makris made remarks on an NRA-produced webcast comparing critics of the show to Hitler. The network's outdoors block, its final connection with its OLN era, was slowly wound down by 2016 with natural contract expirations, as the outdoor networks of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment effectively monopolized the market through their own three networks, along with streaming providers. The editorial standards for those venues also had more tolerance to the firearms-centric genre (and advertiser base) of outdoors programming.
NBCSN simulcast Spanish-language coverage of two matches from the 2018 FIFA World Cup from corporate sibling Telemundo: Brazil vs. Switzerland on June 17, and England vs. Belgium on June 28.
In December 2018, the yearly ratings rankings for American sports networks saw NBCSN rank second for the first time, ahead of ESPN2, which fell below the second spot for the first time in its history.
Because of Comcast's acquisition of Sky plc, NBCSN partnered with the British media firm's Sky Sports division on coverage of international events. The first collaboration came at the Premier League transfer deadline in January 2019. Two months later, NBCSN added an hour-long simulcast of the Sky Sports News channel to its weekday morning lineup, returning that program to the American airwaves for the first time since the discontinuation of Fox Soccer in September 2013.
On January 22, 2021, an internal memo sent by NBC Sports president Pete Bevacqua announced that the network would cease operations by the end of the year, and that USA Network and NBC would begin "carrying and/or simulcasting certain NBC Sports programming," including the Stanley Cup Playoffs, IndyCar Series, and NASCAR Cup Series, before NBCSN's shutdown (NBC lost the rights to the NHL to an ESPN/Turner Sports consortium after the 2020–2021 season).
When NBCSN was shuttered, its programming was effectively merged into USA Network's schedule, with some events also moving to CNBC on weekends, freeing NBC Sports from the burden of having secondary programming to fill time without any live sporting events. Peacock, NBCUniversal's new streaming service, began to broadcast some of the network's former programming such as Notre Dame hockey, and would also simulcast several major sports events held by NBCSN as a transitional move, most notably the opening games of the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals.
The move was cited by industry analysts as a response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sports and television industries, the acceleration of cord-cutting, as well as formidable competition from rival sports networks such as ESPN and Fox Sports 1, noting the company saw an overall revenue drop by 19% to $6.72 billion.
Following a gradual "wind-down" of operations (even further aggravated by NBC's loss of NHL rights), it was further disclosed as to the process of how NBCSN would cease operations on November 2, 2021; specifically, it was revealed on that date that a majority of NBCSN's sports rights, beginning with rights to Premier League soccer, would transfer over to USA Network, the Olympic Channel and Peacock, beginning at 12:00:01 a.m. on January 1, 2022; at that time, the network, after signing off, would then carry a looping advisory video advising viewers where their programs could be found until January 10, though the provider could simply take the channel dark immediately after sign-off. NBC also advised viewers during broadcasts of affected games as to their new location, along with making sure electronic program guide listings reflected the channel's closure, and the company's social media was used to advise viewers as well. Mecum Auctions already had a secondary content deal with Motor Trend and a tertiary deal with RFD TV; Motor Trend became its primary television partner at the start of 2022, though the fate of other surrounding non-NBC programming such as PowerNation programming (which is offered through its owner's own streaming service, Vuit), is unknown.
The final live sports broadcast aired on NBCSN was an exhibition cornhole "Team USA vs. The World" event (both men's and women's) from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (during the 2021 US Open Cornhole Championships) on December 31. It led into the final program, a replay of the second day of Mecum's Kansas City auction event from December 3, and following the program the transition to the advisory loop was done without ceremony. Said loop continued until 2:34 p.m. ET on January 10, when it went dark.
As of September 15, 2014, the entirety of NBC Sports' operations, including NBCSN, moved to a new campus in Stamford, Connecticut.
Football Night in America remained at NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center until September 7, 2014, when that program also moved to Stamford.
Main article: List of programs broadcast by NBCSN
WSOF was formed in 2012, having signed a broadcast deal with the NBC Sports Network. This was the third MMA promotion that NBC Sports has hosted, having broadcast World Extreme Cagefighting and Ultimate Fighting Championship events when the channel was formerly known as Versus. NBC Sports had been one of the bidders for the rights to broadcast future UFC events, but lost out to Fox. However, some journalists regarded WSOF's deal with NBC Sports to be a considerable coup for a debuting promotion, considering NBC Sports' past interest in the UFC. Upon the announcement of the broadcast deal, WSOF President Ray Sefo stated that the promotion wanted to host 8–10 events per year, whilst holding a one-year deal with NBC Sports. However, the next day, an NBC spokesman revealed that the deal only covered WSOF's inaugural event, with the option for more, should NBC hold a positive evaluation. On February 4, 2013, it was reported by several news outlets that NBC Sports signed a 3-year deal with WSOF.
On December 16, 2012, NBC Sports Network, along with CNBC, aired a portion of the Sunday Night Football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots. This was because the game's coverage on NBC was interrupted by President Barack Obama's press conference following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. NBCSN will continue to serve as overflow coverage for Sunday Night Football and other NFL games covered by NBC in the event the ongoing game is interrupted by an NBC News special coverage.
On July 23, 2013, NBC announced that coverage of NASCAR racing would return to NBC beginning in the 2015 season under a new contract lasting through 2024. The deal includes broadcast rights to the second half of the NASCAR Playoffs and Xfinity Series seasons; the majority of which will air on NBCSN.
On August 17, 2014, NBCSN aired rain-delayed coverage of the USGA's 2014 United States Amateur Challenge, making it the first golf event to be televised on the network.
Original programs aired by the network include NBC SportsTalk, and the weekly CNBC Sports Biz, which both debuted in the fall of 2011 (the latter ending when Darren Rovell moved to ESPN as their sports business correspondent). Bob Costas hosts Costas Tonight, which consists of monthly interview episodes, and quarterly town hall specials – the first of which aired from Indianapolis on February 2, 2012, as part of NBC's overall coverage of Super Bowl XLVI.
The network also added more documentary-style series, including 36, Caught Looking (a weekly series co-produced with Major League Baseball), and Sports Illustrated, a monthly series produced in conjunction with the magazine of the same name.
On August 13, 2012, NBCSN premiered a new morning show, The 'Lights, which consists of a 20-minute loop of sports highlights with no on-camera personalities, repeated from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. ET.
In 2014, NBCSN premiered a new auto-themed reality series Mecum Dealmakers. It was renewed for a second season in 2015.
In April 2016, NBCSN acquired rights to air the Dan Patrick-hosted Sports Jeopardy! The premiere run followed nightly 2016 Summer Olympics coverage, and joined NBCSN's Wednesday night schedule later in October.
In February 2019, it was announced that The Dan Patrick Show would be dropped and replaced by an encore of PFT Live and an hour-long simulcast block of British sister channel Sky Sports News. In April 2020, it was announced that the latter would be replaced by the new NFL studio show NBC Sports Football Flex on April 13.
At the beginning of September 2009, DirecTV pulled Versus from its lineup, as it was unable to reach terms on a rate increase demanded by Comcast. In public statements (including a message shown on the channel which formerly carried Versus), DirecTV scolded Comcast for its "unfair and outrageous demands", and considered the company to be "simply piggish" in its demands for higher rates, as it derisively pronounced Versus as "a paid programming and infomercial channel with occasional sporting events." On March 15, 2010, an agreement was reached between the two sides and Versus returned to DirecTV's lineup. The channel was returned to its original package on the service, Choice Xtra. The network then drastically reduced its paid programming blocks to a more traditional late night-only arrangement under NBC management (between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. Eastern time), and mainly limited their offerings to trusted advertisers such as Time Life. The paid programming itself was also subject to pre-emption with live sports from Asia or Australia, and fully put on hiatus during Olympic coverage.
A 1080i high-definition feed of the network was launched in January 2007. Initially, its HD feed was shared with sister network Golf Channel in an arrangement marketed as Versus/Golf HD; Golf Channel programming was broadcast during the daytime hours, and Versus programming was broadcast during the evening and primetime hours with some schedule variation during Tour de France coverage. The shared channel was replaced by individual HD feeds for both channels in December 2008.
In May 2013, the network's standard-definition feed was converted to a widescreen presentation with letterboxing to duplicate the display seen on the high-definition feed in line with their competitors' presentations of their SD channels.
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