NBC Sports Aims for a 'Wide World of Sports' Reputation

Promos Tie Together Network's Airing of Wimbledon, Kentucky Derby, Stanley Cup, Other Championships

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- What do Wimbledon, the Kentucky Derby and the Stanley Cup Final have in common? Except for the fact that they are sports properties long broadcast by NBC, not too much. Now the Peacock Network is aiming to change that.

Kentucky Derby ad
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An NBC Sports ad for the Kentucky Derby identifies the event as part of the network's 'Championship Season.'

In a series of ads and promos set to begin in earnest this weekend, NBC Sports will attempt to tie together its sports broadcasts that aren't related to its Sunday-night National Football League games or the Olympics, its two marquee properties. Under the rubric of "Championship Season," NBC will run print ads as well as on-air promos that attempt to bring together seven championship events that will run between May 2 and July 5: horse racing's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes; golf's Players Championship and U.S. Open Championship; tennis' French Open and Wimbledon; and hockey's Stanley Cup Final.

The network has been broadcasting some of these events for decades -- Wimbledon has been on its air since 1969, and the French Open since 1981 -- but has never attempted to group them under a single proposition.

"Together, they are in a really interesting series of championship events," NBC Sports President Ken Schanzer said in an interview. "Why not identify it and make that a point of reference to try to draw more people to it, and potentially draw some more sponsors to it?"

Hitting wealthy consumer niches
NBC has reason to tout its spring and summer sports telecasts. Over the years, the network has gradually distanced itself from many big-ticket sports properties (after saying it could no longer stomach paying big rights fees for NFL, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball telecasts, NBC raised eyebrows in 2005 when it said it would start broadcasting Sunday-night NFL games, which it began doing in fall 2006). Yet the network does broadcast events that hit the wealthy consumer niches that enjoy tennis and golf, for example.

NBC is wise to bolster the properties, said Thomas Boyd, a professor of marketing at California State University, Fullerton. "Although none of those sports has as big an audience as the NFL, NBA and MLB, the total audience for all of them is large. When NBC presents itself as broadcaster of those 'other' sports, it creates the image in the minds of all those fans that NBC brings them the sports they love," he said. "By strengthening their brand, they then open up the opportunity to sell ads. If successful, this branding approach could help them establish an image that used to belong to ABC back in the days of Roone Arledge's 'Wide World of Sports,' that of the network for people who love all sports. It will be interesting to watch."

Executives at NBC Sports have mulled the idea of a larger promotion for these properties over the years but never took a step forward, Mr. Schanzer said. "Sometimes, when you have disparate events in different sports, it doesn't leap off the page that you ought to lump them under one umbrella." With more advertisers holding tighter to their dollars during difficult financial times, however, the network hopes creating a broader property could help persuade some marketers to buy across the events. "We are putting the string through the popcorn," he said.

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