Breeders' Cup To NBC: Thoughts On The New Deal

ARCADIA, CA - NOVEMBER 07: Jockey Mike Smith celebrates winning the Breeders' Cup Classic race with Zenyatta in the winner's circle during the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park November 7, 2009 in Arcadia, California. (Photo by Jacob de Golish/Getty Images)

It's not a huge surprise that the Breeders' Cup is going back to NBC Sports after several years at ESPN, but I don't think any us realized how imminent that move was. Now that I've had a few minutes to let the news of the broadcast deal between the Breeders' Cup and NBC Sports to sink in I've got some thoughts on the changes. In short, this move makes sense on so many levels and is really a win-win for both parties. In long... well, read below:

  • For the new NBC Sports Network ("NBCSN"), they get a fantastic live sporting event to build around and it fits in with their current content. They began providing Saratoga and Keeneland coverage last summer/fall, which is a perfect lead towards the Breeders' Cup in November. (The network will also broadcast several Kentucky Derby prep races.)
  • Ratings on the Versus/NBCSN are generally lower (overall) than on ESPN which, in some ways, is good for the Breeders' Cup. Instead of being viewed as a drag on the programming, as it seemed it was on ESPN, televising of the Breeders' Cup on NBCSN can be viewed as an opportunity to grow both the network and the event.

    The year that the Breeders' Cup transitioned from NBC to ESPN ratings took a huge hit. Much of that is due to the disparity between broadcast and cable TV. But even when you compare broadcast-to-broadcast numbers from the ABC portion to the old NBC telecasts, the ESPN/ABC events just didn't measure up in terms of viewership.
  • The Breeders' Cup gets to be on a network where they aren't being "fit in" around the college football schedule. Sure, NBC has Notre Dame, and NBC Sports Network will televise college football, but ESPN was wall-to-wall college football on fall Saturdays, so much so that the network split up its Breeders' Cup coverage between ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC. That, to me, was a really bad deal for the Breeders' Cup and something that could only hurt viewership.

    The Breeders' Cup will now be a centerpiece of NBC Sports Network's coverage. That's good for the Breeders' Cup in terms of marketing and promotion.
  • NBC, while not perfect (see Derby day coverage that typically skips the Woodford Turf), has surpassed ESPN in the quality of their horse racing coverage. Ten years ago you probably couldn't make that case. Now? It's not even close.
  • It's unlikely that the Classic will be in prime time every year, especially if the event is on the East Coast. But it makes perfect sense to position it later when the Breeders' Cup is run in the Pacific time zone.
  • ESPN's statement that they are not interested in horse racing is just a confirmation of what we've all known for several years now. Ten years ago, ESPN was very interested in horse racing. So much so that they broadcast a Breeders' Cup handicapping show, early morning events from the Derby, Preakness and Belmont, along with coverage of major stakes races throughout the year. Slowly but surely, that coverage became less and less frequent, until it almost became a joke that they even bothered to show a race at all.

    You knew ESPN was punting horse racing when they took the fantastic Chris Fowler off of their broadcasts and replaced him with Joe Tessatore. No offense to Joe Tessatore, who is probably a nice guy, but I just never took to him on their horse racing telecasts. Fowler is one of the best in the business and made, in my opinion, a big difference in the presentation of the program.

    I don't have anything against ESPN, and not televising horse racing is a better business decision on their part considering that college football and the NFL are their bread-and-butter content, but I'm really glad I don't have to watch one of the sport's premier event's on their network(s) in the future.
  • NBCSN might be in fewer homes than ESPN but I don't think that really matters, at least not in the big picture. Ratings, in many ways, are driven by promotion and marketing. If a network is willing to promote the product and produce quality broadcasts, they can make the numbers pencil out.
  • NBCSN used HRTV's Laffit Pincay (not the jockey, but his son) for a lot of their Saratoga and Keeneland programs last summer/fall. I hope they continue to use him because he is a fantastic analyst. The difference between him and Joe Tessatore is off the charts. He's very knowledgeable, has an excellent on-camera presence and he deserves a bigger stage.
  • I hope NBC can find a place for Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss on their coverage. They used Moss last fall so I'm guessing he'll be part of their coverage. Bailey, however, might be less likely to make the move.

    Of all the ESPN on-air talent, I will be saddest to not see Jeannine Edwards anymore. She was one of the highlights of any ESPN horse racing telecast.
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