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Why is Connecticut’s NBCSN going off air? Sports chairman explains

STAMFORD — Dec. 31 will mark the end of an era at NBC Sports Group.

It will be the last day on the air for the Stamford broadcaster’s NBCSN cable channel. The programming of NBCSN, which is available in more than 75 million homes in the U.S., will be moving to other platforms owned by NBC Sports’ parent company NBCUniversal — including the cable USA Network and streaming service Peacock. The channel has operated since 1995 when it was founded as the Outdoor Life Network, and later renamed Versus, before taking its current name.

In an interview this month with Hearst Connecticut Media Group, NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua discussed why the company decided to wind down NBCSN, its goals for television and streaming platforms and the importance of the Stamford headquarters to its operations.

The following are excerpts from that conversation:

Q: Why did NBC Sports decide that now was the right time to take NBCSN off the air?

Bevacqua: As you think about NBCSN, we’ll most likely finish 2021 as the No. 2 24/7 cable sports channel (after ESPN). And yet, when we look out into the future and think about how to maintain strength and our competitive advantage, we didn’t want to get caught flat-footed.

The idea of creating this super channel in USA Network that is entertainment and sports and how that could position us for success over the next decade and beyond became a really intriguing proposition. It has an unbelievable entertainment portfolio, and now you put things on top of that to add to the WWE (programming on USA). You think about (English) Premier League (soccer), NASCAR, some of the unbelievable golf coverage. And you have this unbelievable proposition that should appeal to a very broad audience.

Q: How important, respectively, are television and Peacock’s streaming service to NBC Sports’ future?

Bevacqua: The growth of Peacock is a major priority for NBCU (Universal). What’s pleasant to witness is that sports has consistently punched above its weight on Peacock. You think about the performance of the Tokyo Olympics, the Premier League, Motocross and when we put on the Toledo-Notre Dame (college football) game.

We’ve also doubled down with linear (television). There’s no better example than the deal we did with the NFL around Sunday Night Football. Sunday Night Football is the No. 1 show on prime-time television for a decade and well on its way to an 11th year in a row.

And in our negotiations with the Premier League, what was so critical to them was that they were going to have these important windows on NBC and USA Network.

We have that strategic benefit when we’re speaking to partners. We have all bases covered. We have a thriving broadcast platform, and we’re going to have this new super channel in USA. And we have this vibrant, rapidly growing streaming platform in Peacock.

Q: To what extent does NBC Sports pay attention to the competition from the likes of ESPN, Fox Sports and CBS Sports?

Bevacqua: We’re always aware of what other sports-programming companies are doing. We’re always aware of what’s going well and what’s not going well across the sports world. Everybody’s strategy is different. That’s not to say ours is better or worse. But I certainly think it’s correct.

The decisions we make aren’t necessarily the decisions Fox Sports or ESPN or CBS or any of the others would make. For us, what we always try to do is get the best properties out there, create unbelievable enduring partnerships and put those on the best platforms that we can and bring the true strength of not just NBC Sports, but all of NBC (Universal) behind them.

Q: How important is the Stamford headquarters, where about 750 employees are based, to NBC Sports’ operations?

Bevacqua: At our Stamford office, we’re getting back to business.

You think about the energy we had during the Tokyo Olympics. We have the Golf Channel now fully moved to Stamford from Orlando. We’re entering into this unbelievably busy season with the winter Olympics and Super Bowl. My hope — and let’s knock on wood — is that everything is back to full tilt. We love being in Connecticut.

[email protected]; twitter: @paulschott