And Down The Stretch They Come: Rebranded network opens door for horse racing

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The switch became official Monday – Versus is now the NBC Sports Network.  NBC has expressed a long-term commitment to growing the channel and competing with ESPN, and horse racing has an opportunity to benefit, writes Matt Gardner at And Down The Stretch They Come:

“The addition of telecasts from Saratoga and Keeneland last fall on the old Versus channel were a welcome addition to horse racing fans. You never got the feeling that those programs, in glorious HD from two of the most beautiful and historic horse racing venues in America, were something that the network was just wedging into their schedule. It was really the tip-of-the-iceberg of what televised horse racing “could be” given a proper commitment.

“For all of ESPN’s qualities, their level of commitment to horse racing has seriously regressed over the last decade. Gone are the days of “Breakfast at Churchill Downs”, a Breeders’ Cup handicapping preview show, or even the Randy Moss hosted programs recapping stakes races from the previous week. (All of those programs existed just 10 years ago.) Even the Breeders’ Cup has lost a little something after moving from NBC to ESPN, with the event turning into a cobbled together collection of programs on three different channels in order to squeeze it in between various college football games.”

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  • David

    It’s a good thing NBC has identified racing as something splintered yet significant enough to put order and focus to (hopefully) get a return.  It would be even better if true relationships evolved with the two trade channels (TVG and/or HRTV).  With tracks adopting the tact of festival/feature days, shoulder/seamless programming becomes crucial.  The Tennis Channel and the Grand Slam networks like The Golf Channel with the major’s Broadcast networks seem to get it right.

  • Bellwether

    NBC & “THE GAME” HAVE ONE HELL OF CHANCE TO SHOW THE PLANET WHAT T-BRED RACE N IS ALL ABOUT!!!…EXPO$URE…EXPO$URE…EXPO$URE!!!…BABY!!!…ty…

  • Robinnwarren

    more racing please

  • ZippelBayWalleye

    NBC ADW.

  • Bookiebuster1

    Falling in love again with NBC is a dangerous game. Its not like they are spoiled for choice sports wise in a market they are clearly way behind in from the jump on a “minor” league station. However any extra horse racing that is accessible to the masses never hurts. I just don’t see the NBC business model sticking around with horse racing long term for anything.

    Haven’t we been down this road before with NBC and b/c way back in the day?

  • David

    If by more racing you mean less talking heads/features/commercials, back-to-back races with more emphasis on the gambling side, etc., you’ll not be satisfied with the new coverage.  Broadcast still very much has a ‘standards and practice’ office and even cable has less stringent ones.  There’s a reason current odds and such isn’t a preoccupation within racing coverage.  The portion of the core racing audience wanting a strict diet of gambling should discover streaming and save the up-charges of their TV provider.  Straight gambling viewing won’t be on Broadcast any sooner that LUCK or DEADWOOD will be for primetime, family consumption.

  • Bellwether

    THEY NEED TO PUT A DENT N ABC/ESPN #’s N THE $PORT$ DEPARTMENT???…PERIOD…$OMEBODY WILL!!!…ty…

  • Glimmerglass

    You make it sound like NBC at one time just walked away from racing which isn’t the case. They were outbid by ABC for the Breeders Cup and its not just money, but BC folks made the decision to go with their bid.

    TC Productions broke apart and that opened the door for each track for themselves. Blame goes to NYRA with their decision to go with ABC too. The Sunshine Millions wasn’t sustainable but NBC supported it as much as they could.

    Decisions by the tracks and leaders of the sport to go with one outlet over another need to be more than just the money. It should be criteria such as accessibility by viewers, for example. Also the tracks should require more cooperation – no races should barred from being aired live on TVG/HRTV if the big-network isn’t airing it.

    Tracks also need to be sure that while a networks flagship channel may have great market penetration the reality is that races can get shuffled off to their hinterlands …. Versus, ESPN Classic, Bravo, USA Network, CNBC, ESPN3, Spike, etc

  • Kirk S.

    After seeing what NBC/Versus did for Saratoga and Keeneland, I’m optimistic horse racing will see some improved public exposure in the coming year.  If they keep the same Versus drive to get under recognized sports (such as Tour de France) out there, it should be great.

    They should also learn from ESPN and what has happened there.  In my opinion, ESPN used to be a great network.  Now it’s just a big network, along the lines of CNN, MSNBC and the like.  More channels, more programming does not make up for the lack of originality and a bit of an edge to keep me as a viewer.

    @ David.  NBC does use many HRTV talent, both behind and in front of the camera.  HRTV’s main producer, Amy Zimmerman, works the NBC telecasts.  TVG has piggy-backed on ESPN sets, but ESPN has never used TVG resources.

  • David

    Good points.  It does seem that ESPN has reached a point of affording eye candy events of most sports with resulting programming watered down versions of once better-produced events.  That said NBC has done no favor to the All England Club, as Wimbledon is all but a tape replay of what it used to be for the US audience (same for ESPN and the US Tennis Open).  When the day comes TVG and HRTV converge (an economic inevitability) shoulder programming will become more effective to the Broadcaster of record.

  • wallyhorse

    A lot of things have also changed since the BC went to ESPN in 2006: 

    NO ONE could have anticipated the explosion in popularity of college
    football to where you now on most Saturdays in the fall literally have
    games available in the east from Noon until 2:00 AM the next morning
    most weeks.  That’s why ABC now has college football on all but two
    Saturdays (that have NASCAR on ABC because of a prior contract) in the
    fall and why the BC takes in the eyes of some “second fiddle” to college
    football. although in fairness, the BC has greatly expanded since 2005
    as well.

    The television landscape has changed dramatically as a whole just since
    2005.  The move of the BC to ESPN at that time was the right move, as
    NBC’s ratings were falling off a cliff, and no one could have
    anticipated that sports would become as important as it is now in prime
    time ratings on Saturdays.  College football taking off like it did
    changed a lot of things, mainly to where ESPN is saturated with games
    and there are even complaints about NASCAR’s Nationwide Series taking up
    a time slot where another game could be placed by some on ESPN or
    ESPN2.

    NBC is expected by quite a few to get the BC back in 2014 (after ESPN’s
    contract expires).  If it does go back to NBC, I also expect to see the
    entire BC at night since NBC can use it to fill up all of Saturday prime
    time and also air an hour on Friday night, likely in a revamped format
    where all of the Juvenile races plus the Filly & Mare sprint are on
    Friday (with the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies on NBC that Friday night
    from 10:00-11:00 PM ET/7:00-8:00 PM PT and the rest of Friday on NBC
    Sports Network while Saturday likely would be 5:00-11:00 PM ET on NBC).

  • Bellwether

    TVG/HRTV DON’T HAVE A CLUE WHEN IT COMES TO PUT N ON A REEL SHOW…THE HORSE RACE N IS GREAT…THE PRODUCTION $UCK$!!!…ty…

  • David

    Tracks once would sell their souls to get their race(s) on ESPN, espn2 or similar with no real reason except cache and supposed “exposure” of a national cable network – move post times, days, pimp their best sponsor, whatever it took.  Then a little league game would run over and (race) players were subjected to watching how their tri box got beat because the race was already over.  Yes, TVG and HRTV can’t match the bigs on production but if this business’ future depends on A REEL SHOW generated by NBC Sports loll.

  • Bhope

    racetracks and horsemen must do their part (as they do in Europe and Asia) to present the product properly for HD.  Let’s get rid of the dirty, crooked rails; place the harrow yards in inconspicuous locations; clean up the flower beds and winners’ circles; either hire/change the pony people or get rid of them; put outriders in proper attire; grooms in appropriate paddock attire; chifney bits instead of lip chains.  let’s make it spectacular and maintain a spot on prime time !

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